We can open our Bibles for all sorts of odd reasons–as a religious duty, an attempt to earn God’s favor, or thinking that it serves as a moral self-help guide, a manual of handy tips for effective religious lives. That idea is actually one main reason so many feel discouraged in their Bible-reading. Hoping to find quick lessons for how they should spend today, people find instead a genealogy, or a list of various sacrifices. And how could page after page of histories, descriptions of the temple, instructions to priests, affect how I rest, work and pray today?
But when you see that Christ is the subject of all the Scriptures, that he is the Word, the Lord, the Son who reveals his Father, the promised Hope, the true Temple, the true Sacrifice, the great High Priest, the ultimate King, then you read, not so much asking, “What does this mean for me, right now?” but “What do I learn here of Christ?” Knowing that the Bible is about him and not me means that, instead of reading the Bible obsessing about me, I can gaze on him. And as through the pages you get caught up in the wonder of his story, you find your heart strangely pounding for him in a way you never would have if you treated the Bible as a book about you. – Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity, 82-83
John the Baptist said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me … will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:11-12)
Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. He will winnow wheat to the barn and chaff to the fire. The baptism with fire in this verse is not a blessing but judgement. Israel must be winnowed, believers and unbelievers must be separated not in preparation for the coming of the Lord (i.e. Jesus) but by the Lord. John is the one calling out in the desert to make ready the way of the Lord (2:3) but he is not the one who makes rough places plain. That is the Lord’s role. This is why John protested when Jesus came to be baptized. John, along with the rest of the nation, needed to be winnowed by Jesus but Jesus needed no winnowing. When Jesus was baptized it wasn’t for repentance or judgement, but so that God’s favor on Jesus might be shown. (2:17)
After Jesus’ temptation in chapter 4, his righteousness is established and the rest of his ministry is winnowing. The nation is divided between true Israel to whom the Gentiles will be joined and “Israel who is not Israel” or hardened Israel who will be judged.
Can you be good without God? There is a Humanist movement that claims you can. And as you can see from the comic above, some think that this is a contradiction of what Christianity teaches. But that’s only true in comics. I’m not aware of any part of Christianity that says that only believers are capable of good deeds. Even the Bible asserts that unbelievers can do good things:
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts… – Romans 2:14-15
So, despite the cross in the comic, the Humanists aren’t fighting a Christian doctrine. The Calvinistic doctrine of “total depravity” does not mean that people are as rotten as they possibly can be at all times. It means that there is not one part of man that isn’t corrupted by the fall. Man’s emotions, desires, reason, etc. are all impacted by the fall. So from the Christian point of view, people can do good and can sin whether they believe or not. For the Christian, we don’t trust in those smatterings of good things we do, our evil far outweighs it. The Christian believer trusts that Jesus’ righteousness on his or her behalf is what makes them commendable to God.
I hope I’m clear on that. Now, the real point I wanted to raise is this, “You’re good without God? So what?” If you don’t believe in God and therefore dismiss the Bible and the Koran and any other religious document, how do you define “good”? If there is no external standard, ethics are nothing more than a matter of public opinion. Consider this:
[Marshall McLuhan] says there is coming a time in the global village (not far ahead, in the area of electronics) when we will be able to wire everyone up to a giant computer, and what the computer strikes as the average at that given moment will be what is right and wrong…We have come to this place in our Western culture because man sees himself as beginning from the impersonal, from the energy particle and nothing else. We are left with only statistical ethics, and in that setting, there is simply no such thing as morals. – Francis A. Schaffer, He Is There and He Is Not Silent, 23
Schaffer wrote this in the ’70s when there was no concept of the networked computers we have today. But aside from the “giant computer”, he pretty much identified the internet right there.1 We collectively decide what is right and wrong, good or bad and all we’re left with is popularity and opinion.
So the Humanist says he can be good with no concept of a transcendent God. So you can go along with the median of what is appropriate behavior as defined by the opinion of your peers. That’s almost impressive. Falling in the middle of bell curve ethics is no real achievement, it just means you’re normal. But perhaps they’re talking about people who do really good stuff. Okay, so you fall into a slightly higher percentile. Again, no huge achievement there.
The question is not whether Humanists can be good without God, for a Christian, that’s pretty much a given. The issue is, so what? What do you expect to gain by being “good”? At some point your heart will stop beating and the neurons in your brain will stop firing and you’ll disappear into the black. Your corpse may be celebrated by your friends and admirers but then it will be burned or buried and then… what? Within a few generations no one will remember the “good” you did or even who you were. And even if they did, what does that benefit you? The problem isn’t if you can be good without God. The problem is why be good?
Now, lest you think this is nothing more than Christian presuppositional apologetics2 (and it is at least that), you need to read the book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon asks all of these same questions as he observed life “under the sun” and wondered why bother.
I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. – Ecclesiastes 2:18-19
See? Same thing and this is the Bible speaking. Solomon works hard to build beautiful things and the person who comes after him is an idiot and squanders it. What did that benefit Solomon after his body temperature drops to room temperature? Nothing. His work was for nothing.
If there is no God, then “good” doesn’t exist. You can be nice. You can be approved. You can be liked. You can run with the crowd but you can’t be truly good. You can be normal.
- Schaffer was extremely insightful, to the point where he sometimes startled himself. In a lecture at Wheaton sometime in the late ’60s he said “I must say at times I frighten myself in my projections, because I’m no prophet, I just know something about our generation and I know these truths of the gospel. But I’ve been overwhelmed at times, scared myself to death at how many times I’ve made projections and they’ve turned out right about what will come next.” The audio is available here. ↩
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presuppositional_apologetics ↩
The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him. – Proverbs 18:17
Just because a practice is historic doesn’t mean the position is. The practice may have been in place for years or centuries but the reason for that practice may be new. For example, Western medicine has historically used leeches as a form of treatment. Contemporary medicine is starting to use them again but for very different reasons. It is a similar thing with Protestant, Presbyterian infant baptism. The practice of infant baptism is documented from the 300s but the Presbyterian reason for doing it was first articulated during the 1500s.
So when I was looking at the Ligonier podcasts, I chaffed when I saw this:
Do you see what’s implied by the titles? The credo-baptism position is not historic but the paedo-baptist position is. Had they swapped the word “practice” for “position” the titles would be better.
I listened to the podcast and RC started out saying that we have to be very precise when we discuss it. He also said that since we don’t have an explicit command or prohibition to baptize infants in the New Testament, we need to be charitable and patient with each other on this. He even went on to say that there is no “identity” between circumcision and baptism. The rest of the podcast was him drawing parallels between the two.
I won’t get into a critique of his presentation on baptism except to say that I felt he made many misstatements and some broad assumptions in defending it. Rather, I’d like to stick to the point that his position on infant baptism is not much more historical than a baptist position. Also, I’m not sure John MacArthur is the best person to offer a Reformed Baptist position. Still, I’m sure he did a fine job.
After I came to embrace Reformed theology I heard RC present the history of infant baptism and I was nearly persuaded that it was a necessary implication of covenant theology. I had previously resisted covenant theology but it was the Bible that persuaded me that it was right. I fought but then surrendered. I thought I was facing the same thing with infant baptism. After listening to RC but before adopting that position, I read the 1689 London Baptist Confession and I think I read a pamphlet from some Reformed Baptist friends. When I weighed the two positions, I found that scripture won out over history but I was left with the question about the long history of infant baptism. Didn’t the Presbyterians win on that front?
After investigating, what I found was that the way most Presbyterians, including RC Sproul, justified the practice was new to the time of the Reformation. No one, from what I have found, used circumcision to justify baptizing infants until then. There is one place where Augustine mentions circumcision but he doesn’t us it as a basis for infant baptism, merely that it was a similar practice. Actually, in church history the reasons for infant baptism are very different. Some supposed that baptism removed original sin and since the infant mortality rate was so high you should baptize your baby so they don’t die and go to hell. Others believed that baptism removed original sin and so they would put off being baptized to a point as close to death as they could. That way it would be harder to commit a sin between being baptize and dying. There was a lot of variety on the issue.
I have some references for this stuff somewhere. What I lack references for, actually I’m not sure there are references for it, is what I presume to be the reason infant baptism spread so widely throughout Christendom. The reason is because church and state mixed. To be German was to be Christian just as to be from Saudi Arabia was to be Muslim. It was a national identity thing. Sure, there were exceptions but generally geo-politically if you were of this tribe that was your identity. So of course you would baptize your babies, that was what Christians did and your babies were Christians too. Don’t press this too much, it is a generalization and of course there are exceptions. But think about the fights that broke out when the anabaptists showed up or when the Reformation took hold. The kings and princes and such were heavily involved as it was a threat to their sovereignty. Same thing with the Anglican church. Could Rome tell the British monarchy what to do?
All of that to say that the position of Presbyterians on infant baptism is as new as the Reformation and a historic Reformed Baptist position existed from at least 1644 when the first London Baptist Confession was written though clearly it would have had to have existed before that to be codified in 1644.
We all have to go to Jerusalem with Jesus even though we know it means death. With Thomas, we all can say, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16). This is the king’s path through the Gospels on the way to Revelation by way of the Epistles. And as dark as that third Passover is, there is purpose in it. Well, purposes really. Of course, without the crucifixion we have no salvation. No question there. If Jesus didn’t take our sin to the cross and the grave and rise victorious over them, we’d be most to be pitied. But something else happened in Holy Week that made kingdom expansion possible.
Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” – John 19:14-15
While the crowd’s response to Pilate’s taunting is shocking, it wasn’t unprecedented or unanticipated by God. Israel had previously leaned on their oppressors rather than on God.
In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. For though your people Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. – Isaiah 10:20-22
When the crowd rejected Jesus as their king they didn’t claim independence, they claimed Caesar. It was the Romans who were oppressing them and it was the Romans whom they were trusting in. According to what God said through Isaiah then, this crowd wasn’t the remnant that would return. Furthermore, God’s promise to Abraham was that his offspring would be as numerous as sand and Isaiah is saying that even though the number of Israelites was like that, it was only a small portion who would actually return.
So how would God’s promise to Abraham be fulfilled if the majority of Israel has rejected Jesus? Paul asks that question himself in Romans 9:6-7, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.” Okay, so the promise didn’t fail because of Israel’s failure, but how then was it fulfilled? Paul answers that question in Galatians 3:29,”If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”
This is why we all go to Jerusalem with Jesus even if we’re not Jews. Among the Jews a remnant was saved and the Gentiles were brought in to fill up Israel. That’s what the illustration of the olive tree having wild branches grafted in means in Romans 11. When Paul say “a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved.”
In the end, we don’t get to enter earthly Jerusalem triumphantly. Jesus did and then was taken out and nailed to a tree. We’re brought in not to earthly Jerusalem but the Jerusalem that is above. (Galatians 4:26) That Jerusalem is the bride of Christ (cf Revelation 21:9 and 10). Until that Jerusalem comes down from heaven, we go with Jesus to earthly Jerusalem to die and be glorified.
As [18th century Scottish philosopher Thomas] Reid pointed out, to know anything about the world we must accept what our senses tell us. We can “dare to know” only if we trust the “testimony of our senses” (as [David] Hume called it.) Similarly for reason, memory, and our other cognitive faculties. We simply have to take our faculties at their word.
And by taking reason and sense perception at their word, we trust their testimony. Testimony, therefore, is foundational to everything we believe. Without trusting our cognitive faculties, we could never believe anything.
Moreover, remember, believing something on the basis of testimony is faith. Therefore, faith is the starting point for all we know and believe. Anselm of Canterbury had a much more reasonable motto than the Enlightenment’s, one that hints at the importance of faith: “Credo ut intelligam,” that is, “I believe that I may understand.” Reid put it a bit differently, saying that the unjust must live by faith no less than the just.
So, when [Victor] Stenger complains that science and reason don’t rely on faith, he’s missed the Enlightenment’s important (and unintended) lesson about faith, reason, and evidence. “The theist argument that science and reason are also based on faith is specious,” he says. “Faith is belief in the absence of supportive evidence. Science is belief in the presence of supportive evidence. And reason is just the procedure by which humans ensure that their conclusions are consistent with the theory that produced them and with the data that test these conclusions.” Stenger is right about one thing: having faith is believing something without having an argument for it (“belief in the absence of supportive evidence”). But Stenger’s failure to realize that science, too, is based on faith (because everything we believe is, ultimately) is a massive mistake. Yet it’s as common as it is colossal. – Mitch Stokes, A Shot of Faith to the Head: Be a Confident Believer in an Age of Cranky Atheists
[Twentieth-century philosopher Ludwig] Wittgenstein once asked a friend, “Tell me, why do people always say it was natural for man to assume that the Sun went around the Earth rather than that the Earth was rotating?” His friend replied, “Well, obviously, because it just looks as though the Sun is going round the Earth.” To which Wittgenstein responded, “Well, what would it have looked like if it had looked as though the Earth was rotating?” – William E. Carroll, “Galileo and the Inquisition I” as quoted in A Shot of Faith to the Head by Mitch Stokes.
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. – 1 Corinthians 1:17
Two quick thoughts on this. First, Paul’s attention isn’t beginning to drift at this point in his argument. This pivot is crucial to his argument. Where factions and divisions exist in the Body, Christ is the answer.
Second, eloquent words of wisdom would empty the power of an objective, historical event. Keep reading 1 Corinthians 1 and you’ll see that God’s wisdom trumps human wisdom and the wisdom of God is the cross of Christ. Human wisdom consists in arguments and theories, God’s wisdom is an event, it is actions. Men write thesis and dissertations, God writes his wisdom in the history of the world. Amazing.
Here’s a sermon I preached at LifeSpring Community Church on 3/10 on Matthew 7:7-12.