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Ecclesiology and Baptism

The EFCA is comprised largely of those who would call themselves baptists with a small “b.” Proponents of this position affirm and practice believer baptism by immersion (credo), but they also recognize infant baptism (paedo) as a valid baptism (though not understood in any salvific sense). Those who have been baptized as an infant and are truly born again can be granted membership into the local church. We in the EFCA have determined that we will not divide over our differences regarding the time and mode of baptism.

In living out this doctrine in life and ministry together, we don’t consider these differences adiaphora, i.e. matters of indifference, or respond as if they don’t matter. We don’t claim that the Scriptures are so unclear that we equivocate on the true meaning of baptism. Rather, we affirm the truth of Scripture, and we base our doctrinal views of baptism on the Scripture. But we don’t believe this difference in interpretation ought to preclude our unity in the gospel of Jesus Christ that manifests in full partnership and fellowship in the local church.

Here is how we have explained this in Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America (p. 170, n. 40):

We recognize that the interpretations of Scripture on the relevant points regarding the two positions on baptism differ with one another and are in some ways incompatible. We allow different interpretations, not because we think Scripture is intrinsically ambiguous on the matter, nor because we think Scripture provides so little information that it is unwise to hold any opinion, but because some of us think the credobaptist position is in line with Scripture and that the paedobaptist position is mistaken, and some think the paedobaptist position is in line with Scripture and that the exclusively credobaptist position is mistaken. In other words, both sides hold that Scripture speaks to the matter, but each side holds a view that excludes the other. However, we do not believe that our differing views on this matter (among others) should prevent our unity in the gospel in full local church fellowship. It is in this sense, and only in this sense, that the Statement of Faith “allows” both views.

But is our latitude with regard to the time and mode of baptism actually a reflection of a diminished view of baptism itself? In the recent Christianity Today, Roger Olson writes of the essential place baptism is to have in the local church in both belief and practice: “Water Works: Why Baptism Is Essential.” Based on the clear teaching of Scripture, baptism is not optional for the Christian.

In the course of the article, as an example of a deficiency in the church, Olson refers to the EFCA. He writes: the EFCA “provides latitude on whether baptism should be required for church membership. Based on the denomination’s autonomy, it’s a local church matter.” This, he contends, “stands in stark contrast with the NT and all of Christian history. For the apostles and faithful Christians after them, baptism was a necessary rite of passage for joining the church.”

On the one hand, we would expect such a statement since he is a Baptist with a capital “B.” But on the other hand, he is not making this statement only from the Baptist perspective, but from the New Testament’s teaching about baptism and from the practice of almost all churches through all of church history.

Have we so emphasized salvation (soteriology) that we have diminished the doctrine and practice of the church (ecclesiology)? Was this a response against the state church that elevated membership (ecclesiology) at the expense of salvation (soteriology)? Did our response result in an error in the other direction? Is this an important reminder/corrective to our response?

How do we respond? In Evangelical Convictions (p.172, n. 52) we state,

Both baptism and church membership are important for every believer, and in normal circumstances baptism as the biblically prescribed act of Christian initiation (in whatever form regarding time or mode) ought to precede church membership.

Yes, we affirm local church autonomy. But if what we say about baptism and church membership is true, what should be the practice in our churches?

 

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baptist (with a small ‘b’)

Bill Kynes, Free Church pastor at Cornerstone Church, Anandale, VA, has written about being baptist with a small “b”: “Why I Am A ‘Baptist’ (with a small ‘b’)” Kynes explains that at this EFC church, like many other EFC churches, they practice the baptism of believers (importantly, it is not stated as adult, since children can also truly be born again and thus ought to be baptized). But they also receive into membership those who are truly born again and were baptized as infants (though the new birth was not in or through baptism).

This is the why he refers to himself, which is also true of many others in the EFCA, as a baptist with a small “b”. This hybrid position is rooted in the gospel, which, notes Kynes,

involves three dimensions: First the gospel has an objective dimension – it involves something outside of us. The gospel is first of all an objective declaration of what God has done in Jesus Christ. . . . Second, the gospel has a subjective dimension – it involves something in us. The gospel involves a (Spirit-empowered) subjective response to that good news. . . . But the gospel also has a social dimension – it involves something among us. The gospel creates a new community, united in Christ by the Spirit.

So how does this then apply in a visible and tangible way to the baptism of a believer?

Objectively, baptism is a declaration of the action of God in the gospel. When a person goes into the water, we see a picture of Christ’s death for us as he died for our sins and was put into the grave. And when a person is raised up out of the water, we see Jesus risen from the grave to new life—that person is washed clean of his sins by Christ and is now given new life in the Spirit.

Subjectively, in baptism believers make a personal profession of faith. They say “Yes” to this gospel truth in their own life. They confess that Christ died for them and that in him they have new life. And they pledge by God’s grace to follow him in faith.

No one baptizes him- or herself. You must “be baptized”—and that is done through the church. So baptism has a social dimension—in baptism the church affirms the faith of the one who is baptized and welcomes that person publicly as a fellow member of Christ’s visible body in the world, expressed in an ongoing manner through participation in the Lord’s Supper.

In sum, Kynes is a baptist (not a Baptist) because he “believe[s] that the New Testament is best understood to unite all three of these aspects of the gospel in the one act of baptism—the objective declaration of the gospel, the subjective response to it, and the social aspect of the church publicly recognizing and affirming that response of faith and welcoming that person as a fellow believer into the visible body of Christ.”

While affirming believer’s baptism and yet supporting membership in the local church for those who are born again and were baptized as an infant, Kynes lists three reasons for doing embracing this practice: humility, charity and theology. It is, concludes Kynes, not without its own difficulties, but it provides “a way of allowing our common grasp of the gospel to overcome our historical and theological differences with regard to baptism that prevent us from welcoming one another in the fellowship of the church.”

I appreciate that Kynes provided a rationale for and defense of our EFCA position. This is consistent with the view espoused under Article 7: The Church in Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America. There is much misunderstanding of our position on baptism, even among many EFCA folk!

 

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The PK (pastor’s kid)

Barnabas Piper, oldest son of John Piper, has written a book about being a PK (pastor’s kid): The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity.

John Piper has written the forward to the book. He writes that it was painful to read this book for three reasons: “First, it exposes sins and weaknesses and imperfections in me. Second, it is not always clear which of its criticisms attach to me and the church I love. Third, this is my son, and he is writing out of his own sorrows.” Piper notes that this is not a slash and burn testimony, but rather a book that addresses hurts and pains without ending there. Rather it pushes through that, without downplaying the reality of them, to the other side so that it becomes a book about healing and grace.

Trevin Wax conducted an interview with Barnabas Piper about this book. I include a couple of questions from that interview. This first one focuses on the sameness a PK has with other kids growing up, but also some of the uniquenesses of being a PK.

Trevin: What is it about pastors’ kids that has led to the PK label and brought additional, spiritual challenges that are unique?

Barnabas: That’s a really good question. If there is no difference between PKs and any other child under scrutiny, my book is a big waste of time!

The biggest difference between PKs and any other children of well-known parents is the spiritual aspect of things, especially the “calling” aspect of pastoral ministry. A singer might be known widely, but they are known for a talent. A politician is known for a position. A pastor is known for being close to God, at least tacitly if not explicitly. With that closeness to God, the call to ministry, comes a public life and all the requisite scrutiny.

All those other public positions are about what someone does – even the president of the United States. So for their kids to do something different or to be a different kind of person is generally more acceptable. If their kids are total screw-ups it has little bearing on what they do.

A pastor, though is about being something, really being a whole lot of somethings, for a group of people. If a PK goes down a divergent path (even a moral one), it calls into question the identity of the pastor in the eyes of the congregation.

Here is another question that focuses on the matter of the pastor pastoring his family. Is this a good way to think about parenting or not?

Trevin: I hear people talking today about the need for a pastor to “pastor his family” first. You say this is bad advice. Why?

Barnabas: It’s bad advice because of what the term “pastor” has come to mean. I know people mean well by using it, but “pastor” is a job title loaded with a thousand expectations.

Pastors are, in many cases, expected to be supermen – morally superior, intellectually sound, theologians, counselors, preachers, teachers, businessmen, accountants, strategists, leaders, etc. If they bring those same sorts of expectations home nobody will benefit. Either they will think too much of themselves or feel like a failure.

Pastors’ kids don’t want superman. They want a present, loving father.

Barnabas was also asked about the benefits of growing up a PK. Please read the complete interview to read his response.

Recognizing that God knows the days and places of our lives before one of them came to be (Ps. 139; Matt. 10:30; Lk. 12:7), knowing that God has placed us in families and vocations by His sovereign design (Acts 17:26), for His ultimate glory and our good, ponder these questions:

For those of you are pastors, what did you recognize as unique blessings and challenges of being a P and PF (pastor and pastor’s family), and what did that entail for you as you parented your children at home and at the church, and for those of you who are on the other side of raising young children, what counsel and advice would you to those in the midst of those child-rearing years?

For those of you who are PKs, what would you say are the blessings and challenges of being raised as a PK in a PK home, and for those who are called into a similar sort of ministry, what will you do the same and what will you do differently, and if not, what counsel would you give to others who are?

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Religious Freedom vs. LGBT Rights

John D. Inazu, associate professor of law at Washington University School of Law, an expert on the First Amendment freedoms of speech, assembly, and religion, wrote an insightful and, I believe, accurate assessment of religious freedom: “Religious Freedom vs. LGBT Rights? It’s More Complicated.”

Inazu raises the question of whether Christian colleges can remain Christian. Can they continue to uphold what they believe to be the biblical view of marriage and require certain ethical/moral behavior of their students that align with biblical teaching?

Gordon College is in the midst of a firestorm at present because of a letter signed last month by President Michael Lindsay. In this letter signed by many other Evangelicals they request that President Obama include a religious exemption in an upcoming executive order which bars federal contractors from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. In essence Lindsay, and the other signers, are desiring to retain the ability to require employees to embrace and live by a Christian sexual/moral ethic. The backlash to Lindsay and Gordon College have been strongly negative. This reflects the changing cultural mores in belief and response.

In this article Inazu helpfully explains how we got here and the “legal, social, and political dimensions of the current landscape.” Most importantly, he notes that “we must recognize that arguments that seem intuitive from within Christian communities will increasingly not make sense to the growing number of Americans who are outside the Christian tradition.”

Based on the present legal and cultural landscape, Inazu provides three predictions of what is ahead. I include them in full.

Prediction #1: Only religious groups (by no means all of them) will impose restrictions based on sexual conduct. That is in stark contrast to the many groups that make gender-based distinctions: fraternities and sororities, women’s colleges, single-sex private high schools, sports teams, fitness clubs, and strip clubs, to name a few. It is perhaps unsurprising in light of these observations that views on gender and sexual conduct have flip-flopped. Thirty years ago, many people were concerned about gender equality, but few had LGBTQ equality on their radar. Today, if you ask your average 20-year-old whether it is worse for a fraternity to exclude women or for a Christian group to ask gay and lesbian members to refrain from sexual conduct, the responses would be overwhelmingly in one direction. That trend will likely continue.

Prediction #2: Only religious groups will accept a distinction between “sexual conduct” and “sexual orientation,” and those groups will almost certainly lose the legal effort to maintain that distinction. Most Christian membership limitations today are based on conduct rather than orientation: they allow a gay or lesbian person to join a group, but prohibit that person from engaging in conduct that falls outside the church’s teachings on sexuality. These policies—like the one at Gordon College currently under fire—are not limited to gays or lesbians; all unmarried men and women are to refrain from sexual conduct. The distinction between status and conduct from which they derive is rooted in Christian tradition, and it is not limited to sexuality: one can be a sinner and abstain from a particular sin.

But many people reject the distinction between status and conduct. And in a 2010 decision,Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the Supreme Court also rejected it, viewing distinctions based on homosexual conduct as equivalent to discrimination against gays and lesbians. I have argued in a recent book (Liberty’s Refuge: The Forgotten Freedom of Assembly) that the Court’s reasoning is troubling in the context of a private group’s membership requirements. But it is the current state of the law.

Prediction #3: Fewer and fewer people will value religious freedom. Although some Christians will respond to looming challenges with appeals to religious liberty, their appeals will likely face indifference or even hostility from those who don’t value it. The growing indifference is perhaps unsurprising because many past challenges to religious liberty are no longer active threats. We don’t enforce blasphemy laws. We don’t force people to make compelled statements of belief. We don’t impose taxes to finance training ministers. These changes mean that in practice, many Americans no longer depend upon the free exercise right for their religious liberty. They are free to practice their religion without government constraints.

Additionally, a growing number of atheists and “nonreligious” Americans have little use for free exercise protections. Even though most Americans will continue to value religious liberty in a general sense, fewer will recognize the immediate and practical need for it to be protected by law.

This final prediction is deeply unsettling, because strong protections for religious liberty are core to our country’s law and history. But those protections have been vulnerable since the Court’s decision in the peyote case. And they will remain vulnerable unless the Court revisits its free exercise doctrine.

Inazu believes that “religious exceptionalism will see diminishing returns.” Rather, he suggests that we consider the notion of pluralism which “rests on three interrelated aspirations: tolerance, humility, and patience.” These are, he believes, “fully consistent with a faithful Christian witness. And in this age, they are also far likelier to resonate than arguments for religious exceptionalism. The claim of religious exceptionalism is that only believers should benefit from special protections, and often at the cost of those who don’t share their faith commitments. The claim of pluralism is that all members of society should benefit from its protections.”

With what do you agree? With what do you disagree? In light of the legal and cultural landscape, what would you suggest as a way forward? How do we remain in the world but not become of the world? How are we salt and light (remember that Jesus says we are!)?

Christian faithfulness and the spread of Christianity were and are not dependent on laws or culture. The recurring refrain that Luke records of the early church, which is vital for us to remember today, is the following:  “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly” (Acts 6:7; cf. 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; 28:31). Our humble prayer: Lord, by your grace and for your glory, do it again.

 

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Religious Freedom

This is the time of year we think of the freedoms we have in our country (recently celebrating the 4th of July). We are grateful that we live in a country with freedoms. We acknowledge that as Christians we are citizens of two kingdoms, the heavenly and earthly, and though the heavenly trumps the earthly, we also live in the world even though we are not of the world. God has ordained government for the present time which is the context in which we live out our Christian lives faithfully on our way to the celestial city.

The Manhattan Declaration, a statement drafted by many representing numerous denominations and religious affiliations, identified three crucial moral issues in our day for which there ought to be a strong convictional stand: the sanctity of life, the integrity of marriage (biblically and traditionally defined as between a man and a woman) and religious freedom.

Timothy George, one of the drafters of the Manhattan Declaration, recently wrote about why religious freedom is one of the most pertinent issues for Christians today: “Let Religious Freedom Ring: Why It’s One of the Most Pressing Issues Today.” He writes,

Religious freedom is not merely political; it is pre-political. As a fundamental, “unalienable” right, it existed before the state. Religious freedom did not begin in modern times; it began when God brought humanity into existence. Rooted in the biblical understanding of human dignity and freedom, religious freedom is a part of what it means to be created in the image of God.

A just government is called to recognize and protect the religious freedoms that have been built into human nature by God. Christians know—even if secular theorists deny it—that religious liberty is grounded in the very character of God as revealed in the Bible, and in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ himself. But we do not claim religious freedom for ourselves only. It applies to all persons everywhere. That is why we affirm, on the authority of the Bible, religious freedom for all, even as we are prepared to defend such freedom in public life through arguments drawn from reason as well as revelation.

What do you think? Do you agree? Is this one of the more pressing issues for Christians today? How ought Christians address it?