Friday, June 19, 2015

Reflections on Baptism and the Early Church

"Concerning Baptism. And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whoever else can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before."
-Didache 7

The sentence underlined above is from the non-canonical early church writing called the Didache ("teaching").  There is much that could be said here on this quote, and of course, given its non-canonical nature, it is not binding on the church of Jesus Christ.  However, the document's value lies in its ability to give us a picture of what the very early church looked like, specifically, that the first generation after the Apostles (depending on which scholarly dating is accepted-likely late 1st/early 2nd century) utilized this document as a book of church order in a manner of speaking.  A few quick observations/reflections from this text:

a).  Baptism was taken seriously, and was accompanied by fasting.  Not that we must mandate fasting, but do we take the sign of the covenant...the profession of faith made in the waters of baptism as seriously in our worship?  Christ himself told us he would be with us as we baptize (Matthew 28:18-20), is this not a serious endeavor?  Our day is full of quick baptisms, with all sorts of irreverent schemes.  Ought we not to consider the gravity of this endeavor? 

b). This implies that the persons baptized were old enough to fast.  An argument could be made here for credobaptism.  In fact, most will agree that the first reference (credible and rightly interpreted in context) to infant baptism found in any of the early church documents was not until the 200's A.D.  Why no instruction before that if paedobaptism was the/a standard practice?  This brief post in no ways discusses all of the issue in this debate, however, this is just a simple observation.

c).  Baptism was accompanied by an intensity in reflection on the part of the person baptize, the baptizer and the church ("and whoever else can").  We would do well to reflect on this example.  It may be an anachronistic interpretation, but if we assume that baptism is a "means of grace", then isn't there benefit in taking the baptism of others seriously, for we too, as observers, are spiritually nourished as Christ is present among His people and the waters of baptism are stirred?

d). We notice that the baptism formula was the Triune name and that immersion was a regular, if not the regular mode ("living water"=stream, river, etc. and notice that going into this water is later contrasted with pouring as a mode, so it clearly means immersion here).  I fall in the camp that says that immersion is the preferred mode (and should be the mode practiced), but I am not convinced that the mode validates or invalidates a baptism.  However, these sentences show us some cohesion with the New Testament record.  To be clear, the New Testament is all we need, but as a historian, it is beautiful to see historical documents reflecting biblical practice. 

Most people may not even know about the document called the "Didache".  For me, while not inerrant, inspired, infallible Word, it is a wonderful historical window into our early forebears.  May we take the sacrament of baptism as seriously in our day.  

"Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit...and I am with you to the end of the age..."-Jesus, Matthew 28

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Dark and rainy discovery...

(pardon the typos-different device being used)

It was basically night.  We had driven for several hours that day on our way to our final destination.  The plan was to stop half way on this trip, but right before the hotel, hopefully, if we had timed it right, to stop by the cemetary where he was buried.  But, we had to make it by nightfall I thought because surely the cemetary would be locked.  Given the journey involved 4 kids in the car, several breaks we needed, and we ended up reaching Princeton, with barely any sunlight left in the sky.  It had rained most of the trip, and it was raining.  We pulled up to the entrance of the very old cemetary, and it was open to my surprise.  First hurdle cleared...we then found the tourist's map, and it was not nearly as helpful as I had thought it would be.  Now, in a large, historical cemetary, with lots of graves, how were we to find it?  Two kids asleep, my eldest ready to help, we took our best guess at where it might be.  By now, it was dark...a few lights surrounded the cemetary, and the rain was falling.  I got out of the car, and started through a row of no avail.  I could not find it.  I briskly walked back to the car to find my wife looking at both the map, and her smartphone trying to see where it might be in the cemetary.  Tired children now stirring, I said, let's call it...we just won't find it, and I will have to be content with just having been in the cemetary where it was.  Then, I thought, with one other glance at the map, and my wife's encouragement, I will give it one more try.  I did, and headed in a slightly different direction.  Old above-ground tombs surrounded me, some were dilapidated, and I thought to myself, what are you doing in a cemetary in the rain in the dark?!  All the old crime shows and mystery movies stayed out of my mind, which was a blessing, as I've likely seen one where a murder takes place in a cemetary in the dark!  I found a neatly kept section...and then I saw the grave of Aaron Burr...I thought, this has to be it...given the relational connection he had.  Then, I stopped...stooped down, and there it was...rain was falling...and neatly kept, with an American Flag at the base...the marker of the grave box read..."Jonathan Edwards".  I briefly said a sentence prayer to God thanking Him for this brother's life and kingdom contributons.

I took a few pictures, quickly ran back to the car in excitement and I showed my son where it was.  I did this, so that I could stay with the car, as he quickly led my wife to see it.  I was happy...I thought we weren't going to see it.  But we made it to the Old Princeton cemetary, and we had found the section where former Presidents of the school were buried, and there it was: the grave of what was likely America's greatest theologian.  We got back in the car, and left.  It was dark and rainy, but we saw it.  

On the 20 minutes that remained before we reached our hotel, I told my eldest about who Edwards was...his mind, his work...his missionary endeavors...then I told him how because Jonathan Edwards was a philosopher, and daddy teaches philosophy, I get to talk about Edwards to students...and to do justice to his life, I have to tell those students about the gospel...

Lest you think this journey was me making a plgrimage to a was a historian's quest to see this site where a man who meant so much to so many was buried...a site that will soon be opened as the King breaks through the sky, and a resurrection body is raised...a brother, and faithful saint laid in the ground in hope that one day, based on his trust in Christ, he would be raised.

Glad we saw it...

Monday, May 11, 2015

Early Church & Interceding for Sinners

"Therefore let us also intercede for those who are involved in some transgression, so that forbearance and humility may be given them, so that they may submit, not to us but to the will of God..." (1 Clement 56.1, 1st Century). 

These words were shared from one church to another regarding the handling and care for someone within the body that is involved in a particular sin/transgression.  Interestingly enough, the original audience of this letter was the church at Corinth.  The Corinthian believers, as we are well aware from I & II Corinthians, were often a troubled bunch.  Here, yet again, the church is encouraged by this non-canonical writing in the care of sinners in their midst.  Notice the prayer's goal: that humility be given so that God's will might be done.  How often in our own churches do we think to regularly pray for those in the body that are struggling with sin. Even in churches that practice church discipline, if we are not careful, the word discipline itself begins with a capital "D", and we forget to pray long and hard for a fellow believer struggling in sin.

Of course, these words in 1 Clement mesh well with the Scriptures (Galatians 6, Jude).  But notice that the focus is a submission to God's will...over and against submitting to the will of man.  There is wisdom here...oh such wisdom.  How often do we seek to restore or confront someone with the goal that they agree with us?  Rather, the submission seen here is unto the Lord...and it is approached with great care in prayer.  As so many churches are recovering the biblical practice of church discipline, let diligent prayer be wedded to the process.  The Corinthian church a generation away from Paul needed this reminder, how much more might we?

One other implication is that the sins of another person in the body are a matter for prayer and concern.  We live in a day when churches are not places to share sin, much less diligently praying for another person to be granted humility in order that they may submit to the will of God.  Let us be wary of not knowing one another.

This passage goes on to talk about not despising correction, knowing that the Lord loves the one that He disciplines, and ultimately that we have a kind Father who disciplines us.  As Paul would say to the church at Galatia:
"Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted."- (Gal 6:1 ESV)

So, based on Scripture's command to seek restoration for a sinner, and seeing a Patristic example of praying for those in sin, let us be a people who pray for those in sin in our midst...

Friday, May 1, 2015

Early Church, Catechisms and Dads

If we think of the systematic teaching of doctrine within the home as a practice originating during the Reformation period, we've missed about 1,500 years.  I've been doing some research in the early church writings, (the Apostolic Fathers  (1st/2nd Century) to be exact), for my current doctoral research and I came across the following:
"...and let us first teach ourselves to follow the commandment of the Lord.  Then instruct your wives to continue in the faith delivered to them and in love and purity, cherishing their own husbands in all fidelity and loving all others equally in all chastity, and to teach their children with instruction that leads to the fear of God."-The Letter of Polycarp to the Philippians, 4.1-2, Mid 2nd Century (Trans. Michael Holmes).

This epistle, while not canonical, gives us insights into the Christian practice and pastoral thought of the time.  Beginning with the head of the household (paterfamilias- in Roman culture), the instruction in the things of God, and instruction that "leads to the fear of the Lord", was to be commonplace in the Christian home.  Fathers, nurturing their wives in the Word (Eph 5) and in turn, mothers (and fathers) teaching their children.  Elsewhere, this same principle is given:
"Let us fear the Lord Jesus Christ, whose blood was given for us.  Let us respect our leaders; let us honor the older men; let us instruct the young with instruction that leads to the fear of God.  Let us guide our women toward that which is good." -1st Clement, 21.6, Late 1st Century (Tran. Michael Holmes).

Must we turn to these passages to find warrant for family catechesis?  Certainly not.  We have Colossians 3 and Ephesians 6 and Titus 2,  which all give Divinely inspired warrant for the need to teach and instruct within the home.  Paul writes for example, "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." (Eph 6:4, ESV).   The word translated "discipline" is the same word used in the Polycarp passage for instruction (paideia). These later Patristic writings show that 50 years, and 100 years (respectively) after Paul, the call within the Christian church was for the households, led by the fathers, to be instructed in teaching that led to the fear, and ultimately, the worship of God.  This instruction would undoubtedly have been conducted utilizing apostolic teaching/Scripture, some of which may have been regularly read and sung (Colossians 1:15-20 for example) or perhaps early creeds. 

We live in a day where the idea that fathers should lead their families spiritually is usually a). rejected as ultimately misogynistic  b). assented to in churches, but lackadaisically avoided, or c). desired, but met with uncertainty over how to embark upon it.  Not sure how to start?  Pick up a catechism and read it yourself...share it together with your wife, and use it with you kids, both formally and informally (my kids and I have invented a "Catechism Game").  What was the thinking of the early church after the Apostles had died?  In part, fathers, lead out in catechizing your kids...

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Covenant of Grace!

The Baptist Confession (1677/1689) says: "Such is the provision which God hath made through Christ in the covenant of grace for the preservation of believers unto salvation; that although there is no sin so small but it deserves damnation; yet there is no sin so great that it shall bring damnation on them that repent; which makes the constant preaching of repentance necessary."

This confession statement is one of my favorites, among so many favorites in the Baptist confession.  The idea that our God has made "provision" through our Savior in the Covenant of Grace is a beautiful truth.  Couple this with the idea that "there is no sin so great that it shall bring damnation on them that repent", and we have the greatest news ever.  This statement upholds God's sovereign provision of salvation, His Holiness ("no sin so small but it deserves damnation") His grace, the need to preach repentance (final phrase) and the idea that in God's covenant economy, believers are preserved.  Well worded 1689 signatories.  Well worded-- 

My three year old son usually says "Jesus" or "died on the cross" during family worship, catechism, etc. as his answer to most questions.  Didn't most of us growing up in Christian homes, at least for a little while, think "Jesus" was the right answer to every Bible question?!  The other day, when all the children were asked a question, he didn't know the answer, but he quickly blurted out "Covenant of Grace!"  We laughed, and partly because his daddy loves speaking of the Covenant of Grace.  But as I reflect...I long for him to truly know what Christ has done in the Covenant of Grace.  Would that he not only know the phrase...but truly know what it is...God's covenantal arrangement whereby He saves His people...a covenant progressively revealed "by farther steps",  until the skull-bruising seed of the woman made final atonement for sin and formally concluded or enacted it. 

For this daddy, I loved hearing the words, and I hope the phrase becomes knowledge for him...and knowledge that leads Him to worship...