Friday, June 10, 2016

Holding "Sinners" In My Hands

There it
 was, Box 1, Folder 61.  The expectation was building indeed.  I had passed through the security and registration process at the door, and was handed the box with only 15 minutes before the library would close.  I opened the box and was greeted by dozens of small satchels, almost the size of what the old late 80's floppy disks would have been.  I found it: #61.  I confirmed the date and text on the label, and slowly began to open the folder satchel.  There, I was greeted with old, yellowish paper with handwriting (challenging to read at times) and two noticeable sections.  One was a packet of paper that seem to go together, and then two individual, small pieces of paper that were clearly separate.  I pulled up the sermon on my iPhone, and confirmed briefly as I read that I was indeed thumbing through, in my very hands, Jonathan Edwards' original manuscript of "Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God".  I learned later that this was his original 1741 manuscript that he preached from in Northampton.  The two small pieces of paper that stood by themselves were the two smaller pages of an outline that he developed later as he re-preached this sermon over and over again.  So many thoughts.  "Am I actually holding what he held?"  "Was this tucked away in his Bible as he ascended the pulpit?"  "Who was converted as Edwards preached from these pieces of paper--the Lord using the ordinary means of grace of preached as a converting ordinance in the life of an 18th century pagan and drawing them to Himself?"

I was absolutely astounded that I could thumb through it---the original, there in the Yale Library collections!  I heard the warning from the attendant "the library will close in 5 minutes".  I knew I needed to delicately pack it back up.  I began the process, but I feverishly looked for a few familiar words I remembered from the sermon:

 "And now you have an extraordinary Oppor- tunity, a Day wherein Christ has flung the Door of Mercy wide open, and stands in the Door call- ing and crying with a loud Voice to poor Sinners; a Day wherein many are flocking to him, and press- ing into the Kingdom of God; many are daily com- ing from the East, West, North and South; many that were very lately in the same miserable Con- dition that you are in, are in now an happy State, with their Hearts filled with Love to Him that has loved them and washed them for their Sins in his own Blood, and rejoycing in Hope of the Glory of God."

I couldn't find those words amid the handwriting, and had to close my time (not to mention that my dear wife and 4 kids weren't allowed to enter with me as I entered due to the kids ages).  I folded it back up, and had a quick reflection of thanks to God for a simple, yet brilliant Philosopher, Pastor, Theologian and churchman of a bygone era.  The box was now closed, and I began the walk to the counter to return the materials to the docent. I later was able to talk to the editor of the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale about my experience and learn a bit more about the sermon, and the Edwards' collection.  I was holding "Sinners" in my hands.  The very manuscript he had preached from several times.  Were these pages christened with tears, or sweat of a preacher pleading (not in a vigorous style)? This was possibly America's most famous gospel sermon ever, and I held it.  What a privilege.  (Yes, I realize the humor for readers who will remember that on last year's family vacation, our little troop trudged through the Princeton Cemetery to find Edwards' grave--and did.  We don't have an Edwards addiction, just rejoice in the history of the church).  

I held it in my hands, and yet, the weightiness of the entire episode is that what makes this so personal an event for me is the reality that God does hold sinners in His hands...and of all people, He hasn't cast me out, but drawn me through the "Door of mercy, flung open by Christ..."  I held "Sinners", but our God holds all sinners, and like Edwards says has made His covenant people to have "their Hearts filled with Love to Him that has loved them and washed them for their Sins in his own Blood, and rejoycing in Hope of the Glory of God."

Monday, May 16, 2016

We Made It Our Own...

Just finished making a few updates on our church website and our bulletin shell earlier today to further clarify statements about our church.  You see, yesterday was an important day in the life of our church family for we officially adopted The Baptist Confession (1677/89) as our own Confession.  I have previously written about this confession (here).  However, yesterday, our church, not just its pastor, adopted this historic confession as our statement of faith.  Our church has always had a 'calvinistic' view since our inception in the late 70's.  However, yesterday, we made this confession the guiding statement of our shared belief and how we see the Word of God fitting together.  This decision I believe will benefit us--a small band of believers growing in the rich theology of the Word and in our appreciation of the earliest of Baptists. My hope for us in adopting this Confession is that:

*It serves and aids us as we continue to grow in our knowledge of the Word of God.

*That it further informs us of the beautiful vision of the Christian life that it lays out (means of grace, covenantal grace, the moral law as a guide, a 1 in 7 rhythm of work and rest).

*It further demonstrates "who we are" as new believers consider joining us.

*It serves as a guide as we disciple new believers (Matt 28:18-20).

*It connects us in our appreciation of the Reformation, and the early English Particular Baptists specifically.

*It serves as a marker for reference as our people read and study theology.

*It helps us to stay true to the truths it contains, and to not wander from those truths.  That it helps us to be even more careful to avoid theological drift.

*It helps us think about communion with other churches, near and far.

*Its pastorally written paragraphs, (14.3, 18.1-4 for instance) serve as a rich balm for our people as they are tried in this world.

*It helps us to continue to value historical theology, and time-tested confessional truths, vs. seeking to be so 'relevant' that we minimize doctrine.

*It helps us to explain that we have a robust doctrine of covenant theology, of baptism, of ecclesiology, of the ordinary means of grace and that, while aided by our other non-Baptist Reformed brethren, we too are children of the Reformation by God's grace, and have a robust theology.

*It serves many Baptists who come through our doors in helping them see their own roots, and that is helps to "bring them back" to our own Baptist roots.

*It serves non-Baptists who come in to see that we are "of" the Reformation and the Puritans.

*That the Gospel proclamation of our body is emboldened, and enriched as we say more about the gospel than say less...

*That God is glorified as we revel in Who He is....

Yes, I think it was important what we did yesterday.  I am grateful for a body willing to make this Confession its own...

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Consider the 1689

Huddled together in 1644, representatives of 7 churches gathered to summarize their common confession, and to distinguish themselves from the Anabaptists and the Arminians.  It was a time of turmoil, and the river of the Reformation had swept across the banks of London.  This was one of the first of several non-Anglican groups in that century to put pen to paper and confess their faith.  Two years later, the Westminster Assembly would produce its own confession (WCF), and then in 1658, the Congregationalists would follow suit (Savoy Declaration).  That original group of 7 churches was the Particular Baptists.  Amid persecution, and to show their solidarity and theological agreement in many ways with the Presbyterians and Congregationalists that had since written their own confessions, a larger crop of Baptists would draft the 1677 Baptist Confession with great reliance on the WCF and Savoy, however due to persecution, this document would not be published until 1689, giving it the name that it is known by today: "The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith".  This Confession was classically theist in its view of God, covenantal in its view of Biblical Theology, "Calvinist" in its soteriology, and would show alignment with the Westminster Confession of Faith on the Ordinary Means of Grace and the Law.   I grew up Baptist, became Calvinistic in my soteriology in my teen years, and have found a wonderful home in the confessional roots of Baptist theology as a pastor in my mid-thirties.  To me, this Historic Confession, similar to the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Savoy Declaration, is worth considering for at least five reasons:

1).  For Baptists influenced by the 'New Calvinism', it is helpful to see that for Baptists, Calvinism is not "new".  Many Baptists, myself included, embraced Calvinism and became ravenous for the writings of the Reformed tradition.  We discovered that past the "5 points", a covenant theology existed, but we assumed it really belonged to the Presbyterians.  Yet, if we study our own history, we would see that the large, world-wide Baptist movement across the globe today really came out of a group of solidly Calvinistic, and even covenant theology-holding Particular Baptists.  But from the 1800's until the mid 1900's, we lost our Confession.  Baptists have a strong, soteriologically rich heritage. If you read the original forward to the confession, the heart of the signatories is oozing with a desire to find common ground with their Presbyterian and Congregationalist brethren.  They write in their original letter to the reader, "...contention is most remote from our design in all that we have done in this matter."   A helpful history is found here:

2).  It contains a wonderful vision for the Christian life.  Early Baptists were  convinced of the Ordinary Means Grace.  They agreed with their Presbyterian Brethren that the Lord's Supper was more than a memorial.  They embraced the God-given rhythm of 1 in 7, and valued Sabbath rest each week.  They held that the Moral Law, summarized in the 10 Commandments, while not a means of earning righteousness, was a guide for the believer along the Christian road of joyful obedience.  And they valued, with their Protestant counterparts, a strong Word-Centered Christian life.

3).  There is value in saying more sometimes.  In a day when statements of faith in many churches can be a minimalist endeavor, it is good to have a summarized Systematic Theology.  I once heard a dear brother say that the Confession is like a wonderful English garden, where Calvinism is only one set of beautiful flowers contained therein.  The early Baptists were not content to have a Calvinistic soteriology alone.  They viewed the pieces of systematic theology as fitting together--rising and falling together.  If we adopt an historic confession, will this increase our need to disciple new believers, or spend 'extra' time with new church members unfamiliar with a lengthier confession?  Yes, but isn't this ultimately a fruitful fulfillment of our commission to make disciples?

4).  Historic Confessions ground us.  What would Biblical or Systematic or Exegetical Theology be without the aid of Historical Theology?  While not inspired Scripture, historic confessions help us to work through doctrine in connection with saints who have gone before us.  For Baptists particularly, we have vacillated across a wide expanse of theological understanding since the days of the late 1600's, even since the days of Spurgeon, and this expanse includes several movements that had no real historic connection prior to their sudden development.  What if a renewed interest in our own confessional heritage is what we need as we continue to grow and minister for and towards the glory of God?

5).  Believer's Baptism has much of its roots in a Covenant Theology.  My many Presbyterian friends may wince, laugh or want to take me to task on that statement.  However, for early Baptists coming out of the Church of England, two things drove their view of Baptism in my opinion (and it was not to be ignorantly petty, pesky, or contrarian, nor was it alignment with the Anabaptists whom they had already expressed distinction from).  They believed in the Regulative Principle of Worship: in doing in public worship only that which we see in the Scriptures.  This, combined with their understanding of Covenant Theology led them to refocus on the practice of baptizing those who come to the promise of the Covenant of Grace in faith, not those who come due to a connection of flesh (infants with parents).  This is not to say that one cannot believe in Believer's Baptism without a Calvinistic or covenantal theology, but only to show what the original roots were regarding the early, Puritan Baptists and their Credobaptist practice.  Although not monolithic, Particular Baptist Covenant Theology was essentially the idea that the Covenant of Grace is synonymous with the New Covenant and was only revealed in the previous biblical covenants (Abrahamic, Davidic, etc.) but that the Biblical Covenants were not the Covenant of Grace in substance.  They were each steps of the unfolding revelation of the ultimate Covenant of Grace, but the substance, the actual ratification of the covenant, was not until the New Covenant.  This leads to a full-fledged conviction of Credobaptism.  If one views the substance of the Covenant of Grace as synonymous with or being in substance the same as say the Abrahamic Covenant however, then paedobaptism is the logical conclusion.  The early Baptists believed in giving the sign of the Covenant of Grace (New Covenant) to those whose interest in it was faith versus flesh since fleshly covenantal connection ended with the Abrahamic Covenant. 

Consider the 1689.  Much more could be said, but Baptists too have their place historically among the Confessional Reformed.  I am so thankful for my many Paedobaptist brothers, both awake and asleep, who have guided my theological development in Reformed Theology.  I just rejoice that my early Baptist brothers held to it as well...