Category Archives: Biblical Commentary

The Captain’s Eight Theses: On the Biblical Basis for Infant Baptism


1. Israel is the Church–the Church is Israel.

2. God commanded Israel to circumcise their households (believers, their children and anyone else of any status in the household). 

3. Divine Commands remain in place if they are never rescinded. 

4. Israel, by the plan of God, was a mixed multitude of believers whose circumcision signified the circumcision of their hearts (their faith and repentance), and unbelievers whose circumcision was a constant reminder to them of their need to circumcise their hearts (to repent and believe).

5. In Christ, the sign of circumcision–the sign and seal of faith (Romans 4:11)–was changed to baptism (see how the one is identified with the other in Colossians 2:11-12), and this sign continued to be given not only to individuals, but also to households in the New Testament. 

6. The command to apply the sign and seal of faith to households is nowhere rescinded in the New Testament; therefore, the command remains in force. 

7. For this reason, it is biblical to baptize the infant children of believers before they make a profession of faith. 

8. In conclusion, the Bible teaches Christians to baptize their children with a view to raising them to repent and believe in the providential timing of the Lord. 

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By Grace Through Faith (Galatians 2:15-21)

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

(Galatians 2:15-21 ESV)

Mid-Cities Presbyterian Church Library

IMG_0686 Pastor Joe Troutman preaching at San Antonio Reformed on June 21, 2015. HT: Billie Moody

On Sunday, November 15, 2015, Pastor Joe Troutman preached “By Grace Through Faith” from Galatians 2:15-21.

You are justified in God’s sight not because of what you have done, but only by what Christ has done for you, and imputed to you by God’s free grace.

1. By God’s Free Grace—It doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, all are justified by grace through faith in Christ. Justification is, in God’s Court, your being declared righteous. If our righteousness is filthy rags, then justification by God is a gift.

2. He Pardons All Our Sins—In the case of your standing before the Lord, it is impossible to plead innocence. If you only ever committed the least sin, you stand condemned by the Law, because it is holy, good…

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For God’s Glory, and for Our Good (John 11:1-16)

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

(John 11:1-16 ESV)

Mid-Cities Presbyterian Church Library

Sermons JohnOn Sunday, November 8, 2015, Pastor Joe Troutman preached “For God’s Glory and For Our Good” from John 11:1-16.

Lazarus’s deliverance from death was, and your salvation from eternal damnation is, accomplished by Jesus Christ for the glory of the Triune God.

1. Expression of Love—Because of his love for Mary, Martha and Lazarus, Jesus stayed two days longer upon reports that Lazarus was ill. They benefited more by his delay than if he had healed Lazarus immediately.

2. Walking in the Day—Jesus knows there’s no safer plae for him to be than right where the Father planned for him to be. The divine nature of Jesus knows his Father’s secret will. There was still time for Jesus to work.

3. For Your Sake, For God’s Glory—Jesus wants his disciples to have true faith in him. His delay in going to Lazarus was for their…

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Hear, O Israel (John 10:22-30)

At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, hin the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are ithe Christ, jtell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do lin my Father’s name bear witness about me, but myou do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and pthey will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of tthe Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:22-30)

Mid-Cities Presbyterian Church Library

Sermons JohnOn Sunday, October 18, 2015, Pastor Joe Troutman preached “Hear, O Israel,” from John 10:22-30.

Jesus Christ is of one substance with the Father but who became a man; he is the Good Shepherd out of whose hands no one may snatch those who believe in him.

1. Insufficiency of Evidence–The miraculous signs of Jesus reveal him as the Son of God and the Messiah; however, though we point to evidence of his divinity, his miracles and the historical fact of his resurrection, and many will refuse to believe in the face of overwhelming evidence because evidences alone are unable to generate the faith sinners need to be born again.

2. Faith Comes from Hearing–Jesus’ sheep hear his voice because they’ve been enabled to hear by the Holy Spirit. Those who never hear it, neither want to, nor are they able to hear his voice.

3.

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The Good Shepherd (John 10:1-21)

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”

(John 10:1-21 ESV)

Mid-Cities Presbyterian Church Library

Podcast Art JohnOn Sunday, October 11, 2015, Pastor Joe Troutman preached “The Good Shepherd” from John 10:1-21.

Jesus Christ is the Door of the sheep and the Good Shepherd. He is the only way we may be saved, and he gently leads us through this life and into the next.

1. I Am the Door—The Pharisees are illegitimate shepherds. The true shepherd comes to the flock by means of true doctrine and obedient life. The true shepherd is not passive, but rather, active in guarding the sheep. “Life more abundantly” is often misused by false teachers. Spiritual, rather than material, abundance is meant by and provided by the Good Shepherd.

2. I Am the Good Shepherd—A shepherd seeks his own lost sheep, binds up the wounded, defends them from wolves. Jesus needs nothing from us, but gives us all things.

3. I Lay Down My Life—The Good Shepherd…

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While I AM is Still Near (John 9:1-7)

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. (John 9:1-7 ESV)

Mid-Cities Presbyterian Church Library

Podcast Art JohnOn Sunday, September 27, 2015, Pastor Joe Troutman preached “While I AM is Still Near” from John 9:1-7.

The Lord may be found only while he is here on earth. First, he was present in person; now he is present in his Body, the Church.

1. Who Sinned?—The fall of Adam brought the world into a state of sin and misery; therefore, we live with the daily consequences of our corporate sin in Adam in a fallen world.

2. God’s Works on Display—The real purpose of the man’s blindness, was to put the work of God on display. Doing the works of Jesus is the duty of followers, too.

3. As Long as I am in the World—The miraculous signs of Jesus reveal him to be the Creator and the Son of God. Jesus was the Light of the world during his earthly ministry. Since…

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With All Your Heart | DFW RefCon 2015!

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Dr. Craig Troxel, pastor of Bethel OPC in Wheaton, Illinois, will be speaking on the biblical meaning of the heart. He’s working on a book on this subject, so this conference will be a preview. The conference will take place at my church, Mid-Cities Presbyterian Church in Bedford, Texas (1810 Brown Trail, Bedford, TX, to be exact)

The subject of this conference is specially related to a major theme underlying this blog. There is a distinction assumed by fundamentalists and evangelicals between the head, where one supposedly only crams facts about the Bible, and the heart, where it is said, that knowledge of the Bible must move before one genuinely benefits from his knowledge of the Bible. Dr. Troxel will explain how this is a fallacious concept. I look forward to being enlightened on the biblical teaching on the heart, and passing it on to you.

If you live in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, I highly recommend you join us by registering by first clicking at the link in the sidebar. If you live outside this region of north Texas, I hope some of you will make the effort to come.

Event Details

“With All Your Heart:” Thinking (again) about What You Know, Love & Choose

If you are going to get at your real motives; if you want to grow in repentance and faith; if you desire true Spiritual renewal; if you are going to pursue sincerity and avoid the pitfalls of hypocrisy; if you need honest communication in your marriage; if you want to encourage believing friends with more clarity; if you long to pray and examine yourself with greater transparency—then you need to know what the heart is and where it is in your relationship with God. Interested? You should be. If you want to love God, obey God, seek God and know God, you must do so with “all your heart.”

Schedule

  • Friday 7:00 p.m. #1 – Knowing: The Mind of the Heart
  •  Sat. 9:30 a.m. #2 – Loving: The Desires of the Heart
  •  Sat. 11:00 a.m. #3 – Choosing: The Will of the Heart
  • Break for Lunch 12:00–1:30 (Free BBQ grilled on-site!)
  • Sat. 1:30 p.m: #4 – Keeping: Preserving & Protecting the Heart
Bethel OPC Wheaton Pastor and Author Craig Troxel

Bethel OPC Wheaton Pastor and Author Craig Troxel

Speaker Bio

A. Craig Troxel was born and raised in rural western Nebraska by the sixth generation of immigrants from Switzerland.

He is a graduate of Anderson University (B.A.), Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.A.T.S.), and Westminster Theological Seminary (Ph.D.).

He has served as the pastor of Bethel Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Wheaton, Illinois since 2007. He is Adjunct Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and an Adjunct professor of Ministerial Studies at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, Indiana. He also serves on his denomination’s Committee on Christian Education. In addition he served as moderator of the 81st General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

He has published scholarly articles in Trinity Journal, Calvin Theological Journal, Westminster Theological Journal, Fides et Historia,Presbyterion, and in popular publications like Ordained Servant, New Horizons, and Modern Reformation.

Pastor Craig’s interests lie in preaching, spirituality, the doctrine of the church, and he is currently writing a book on what the Bible teaches about the heart.

He and his wife Carolyn live in Wheaton together with three of their five children, Phil, Tommy and Maggie. The Troxel family enjoys playing all sports, taking excessively long road trips, reading books and growing the ingredients for salsa in their garden.

Lastly, and most relevant to this blogger, Pastor Troxel was my pastor’s pastor when he attended Westminster Theological Seminary! I am very much looking forward to learning from him on this much-misunderstood topic. Register today and do so along with me!

http://www.dfwrefcon2015.eventbrite.com

Sermon Notes: The Lamb of God (John 1:18-34)

Sermon Notes Image

The following is an outline based on the notes taken during the sermon preached by Rev. Joe Troutman at Mid-Cities Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Bedford, Texas on October 26, 2014. Audio

The Lamb of God (John 1:18-34)

John the Baptist points away from himself to Christ, so that all may know that Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

I. Who Are You? (1:19-21)

A. Leaders’ First Question

1. “Who are you?” (1:19)

a. Not asking for genealogy—they likely know of his father, Zechariah.

b. Jewish leaders would be remiss to not examine John the Baptist.

 B. John the Baptist’s First answer (1:20)

1. Confesses Christ by denying being him.

2. There were many itinerant claimants to Messiahship.

C. Leaders’ Second Question (1:21a)

1. “Are you Elijah?”

a. Matthew’s description of John the Baptist an allusion to Elijah (Matthew 3:4)

b. Rabbis frequently expounded on Elijah’s expected return (Malachi 4:5)

D. John the Baptist’s Second Answer

1.  “I am not.”

E. Leaders’ Third Question (1:21b)

1. “Are you ‘The Prophet’?” (Deuteronomy 18:15)

F. John the Baptist’s Third Answer

1. “No.”

2. Christ himself is ‘The Prophet’ (Acts 3:22; 7:37).

II. The Voice (1:22-28)

A. Leaders’ Fourth Question (1:22)

1.“Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

B. John the Baptist’s Fourth Answer

1. “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” (1:23)

2. Prophesied in Isaiah 40:1-8; see v. 3

3. A metaphorical call to repair the roads to ease the return of repentant Jews from Babylonian Captivity—the literal near fulfillment.

4. John the Baptist and his baptism of repentance (Luke 3:3) is the spiritual and ultimate far fulfillment.

5. John the Baptist is like a pre-battle bombardment to soften a target before an attack.

C. Leaders’ Fifth Question (1:25)

1. “The why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

D. John the Baptist’s Fifth Answer (1:26-27)

1. “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”

2. Like his confession by denial above, John the Baptist magnifies Christ by diminishing his own importance (John 3:30).

3. Christ was there, yet remained unrecognized (cf. John 1:10).

III. That He Might Be Revealed (John 1:29-34)

A. John 1:32-34 takes place after Jesus’ baptism.

B. “The next day he (John the Baptist) saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’

1. John 1:29 is the gospel in a nutshell.

a. John the Baptist refers to Christ in terms of the Passover Lamb.

b. “The world” in John 1:29 does refer to all people in the world, but not all people without exception (see John 1:12).

C. John the Baptist’s twofold ministry

1. Negatively, he calls the Jews to his baptism of repentance.

2. Positively, he points to the Lord Jesus Christ to bear witness that he is the Son of God that they might believe.

D. If you believe in Christ, he has borne your sins; therefore, repent of your sins and reaffirm your faith in him in Christian worship.

 

Carl Trueman Preaches at SWBTS

Dr. Carl Trueman speaks in the SWBTS chapel Thursday, October 9, 2014.

Dr. Carl Trueman speaks in the SWBTS chapel Thursday, October 9, 2014.

Yes, you heard that right. Dr. Carl Trueman was invited to speak in the chapel service at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas yesterday. Seminary President Paige Patterson introduced Dr. Trueman as “my favorite Calvinist” for his activities as a “critic of the culture.” In the video of Dr. Trueman’s chapel sermon, you can see his friendly response in which he expresses his admiration for Dr. Patterson’s role in leading Southwestern and the SBC back to a more conservative theological position. Then he delivers a sermon on the advent of the prophet Elijah from 1 Kings 17:1-24 and proclaims the power of not only God’s Word, but also his holiness, his mercy and his power over death. My pastor, Joe Troutman, and I attended the service, got a bite to eat off campus while Dr. Patterson and his wife hosted Dr. Trueman for lunch (oh, to be a fly on the wall of that conversation!), gave him a tour of the campus, after which Mid-Cities Presbyterian Church officially took possession of him in preparation for tonight’s OPC DFW Reformation Conference 2014 on the role of creeds and confessions in the Protestant Reformation and their benefit to the life and worship of the church today. If you haven’t already registered, it’s not too late. Pictures and audio to follow on this blog in the coming days.

View “The Advent of the Prophet Elijah” (1 Kings 17:1-24)

Register for OPC DFW Ref Con 2014

 

Inclusion of Whole Households and Covenantal Continuity

Robert Mossotti

Robert Mossotti, OPC Licentiate

The following is part two of a series featuring OPC Licentiate Robert Mossotti’s August 31, 2014 Sunday School Lesson on Why Presbyterians Baptize Children of Believers, taught at Mid-Cities Presbyterian Church in Bedford, Texas. Read Part 1. Subscribe to Robert’s podcast at SermonAudio.

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“And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him… Then Abraham took Ishmael his son and all those born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day, as God had said to him” (Genesis 17:18-19, 23).

In this passage, we see that Ishmael is commanded to be given the sign of the covenant, even though Abraham knows God’s covenant is actually with Isaac, and not with Ishmael. In other words, Ishmael is admitted into the visible church even though Abraham knows he’s not a member of the invisible church. He knows it—he’s told it by God. God’s covenant is really and truly with Isaac. But since Ishmael is in Abraham’s household, and under Abraham in God’s eyes, he, too is to receive the covenant sign. In other words, if the household principle that we see in Genesis 17 dictates that even definite reprobates like Ishmael are to receive the sign and be admitted into the visible church, then the household principle means that possible reprobates should be given the sign and admitted to the visible church. The greater includes the lesser, if you follow my meaning.

We don’t give children the sign of the covenant because we believe they are elect; we give them the sign of the covenant because that’s what we’re supposed to do, even when it is the case that, even by divine revelation God has told the parent, “My covenant is not with this boy. My covenant is with the boy that Sarah is actually going to have. Now give Ishmael the sign of the covenant.” Abraham knew that Ishmael would not be a member of the invisible church–he was not God’s chosen—Isaac was going to enjoy that position. God told him to circumcise Ishmael, and that’s because of this household principle: the believer is in charge of the household, the parent is a Christian, the parent is in the visible church, and the child is to be admitted into the visible church.

In Genesis 17, in verse 7, we see that the covenant of grace is established on these terms. It is between God and Abraham, and God and his seed after him for an everlasting covenant to be his God, and the God of his offspring. Now in verse 9 of Genesis 17, we can see that Abraham and his offspring are to keep this covenant. Think of Galatians 3:29 here: if we are in Christ, then we are Abraham’s offspring.

Now let’s look at verses 12 and 13 of this chapter.

He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.

These verses reveal that the sign and seal of the covenant of grace was not contemplated by God as being only based on the principle of fleshly descent from Abraham, but on a different principle. It was not only the physical descendants of Abraham who were to receive the sign, it was his whole household. Abraham’s household had slaves and servants numbering in the hundreds (I direct you to Genesis 14:14 to see that). Because Abraham, the head of the household, was a believer, every member of Abraham’s household was to come into the visible church. In the covenant of grace, then, those who are under the authority of the believing head of a household are likewise to receive the sign and seal of the one covenant of grace, and verse 14 of this chapter says that if you don’t, then that person is to be cut off. The uncircumcised child is to be cut off from my people. He is a covenant breaker.

This is all established by divine appointment, so we maintain that only by divine appointment it may be altered, according to Galatians 3:15-17, which we read at the beginning. Nothing has changed with respect to this principle in the New Testament church, which is why the whole household was granted the sign and seal of the one covenant of grace during the days of the apostles. We see this same principle of household admission to the visible church. It is still in effect in the New Covenant administration of the one covenant of grace. The New Testament, therefore, does not need to be careful to point out that children are being baptized in order for us to baptize children. We must only be careful to point out that households are being taken into the New Testament church, which, indeed, the New Testament is careful to do in many instances. So the household principle of Genesis 17 is carried over into the New Covenant, and because it is, we believe it is appropriate to baptize the children of believers.

Regarding whether the New Testament explicitly mentions the baptism of infants, I would direct you to sermon Pastor Troutman preached on Joshua chapter 5. The grown men of the children of Israel who invaded Canaan all had to be circumcised as adults. That’s because their parents in the 40 years in the wilderness never circumcised them like they were supposed to. If we just looked at Joshua 5 and we did not look at prior revelation—Genesis 17—one would mistakenly assume that only adult males were to be circumcised because there is no explicit mention of children being circumcised in Joshua chapter 5. But one must look at the Abrahamic administration of the one covenant of grace to understand that children are to receive the sign, too. That’s why, as a matter of literary inclusion, if you will, the writers of the New Testament didn’t go out of their way to say that infants are being baptized as well because the explicit household principle comes into play and the rest is assumed. Because people who are coming into the church as the apostles preached the gospel are all adults, that’s what gets explicit mention in the same way that the adults that went into Canaan got explicit mention that they were receiving the sign of the covenant, and you would have to go prior to that, into earlier revelation, like we’re trying to do now, to establish that it’s children as well as adult males.

We’ve covered a lot of territory about the distinction between the visible and invisible church. We know from John 15 that even branches that are fruitless are for a time united to Christ externally only to be broken off later and cast into the fire, Jesus says, like the thorny and rocky ground in the parable of the sower, or like the bad fish in the parable of the dragnet, many reprobates are, in fact, in the visible church by profession, and, as we know from the Scriptures, by birth as well, and we have the explicit example of Ishmael and Esau. That’s important to keep in mind: baptism is not an assertion that this person is elect, it’s a rite of admission into the visible church, not the invisible church.

Visible Church Membership for Covenant Children

Robert Mossotti

Robert Mossotti, our summer intern at Mid-Cities Presbyterian Church in Bedford, Texas taught a Sunday School series on Ecclesiology. All of the lessons are available online here. They’re also available on Robert’s SermonAudio page here. My favorite lesson in the series was the following on the biblical case for infant baptism and the Reformed inclusion of the infant and unbelieving children of believers into church membership. The following is a transcript of his remarks, lightly edited at some points. I hope you find it as helpful and enlightening as we have. You can listen to this particular lesson online here. We begin with his introductory remarks regarding principles that govern our interpretation on this issue, and an exposition of Paul’s words regarding covenants from Galatians 3. The rest will follow in the coming days and weeks.

Why do Presbyterians baptize babies and count them as members of the visible church?

Let’s restate some principles first, before we get into some passages.

The visible covenant community is the visible church—Old Testament and New Testament—and what makes it visible are the sacraments. These place a mark on the church to identify it as belonging to the Lord. The sacraments mark God’s people off from the world. Another principle we have to keep in mind is that there is only one covenant of grace in Scripture. The covenant by which Abraham and the Old Testament church were saved is our covenant, too. By God’s grace, in the Scriptures we are all called children of Abraham through faith. There is no essential difference between the Old Covenant church and the New Covenant church. There are differences, but no essential differences. No differences as to substance, just form. The church is one across all the ages, because the covenant of grace is one. To embrace the one idea is to embrace the other. If you accept that there is one covenant of grace throughout Scripture by which we are all saved, then you have to accept that the church is one across both Old and New Testaments. We affirm this over against dispensationalism, which maintains an essential difference between Israel and the church. So the Abrahamic Covenant, the Mosaic Covenant (the one at Mount Sinai mediated through Moses), and the New Covenant are all different  administrations of the one covenant of grace. In section 5 of chapter 7 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Mosaic Covenant is called an administration of the covenant of grace. Alright, now that those principles have been stated, let’s go to Galatians 3.

The apostle Paul is going to give us in this passage a principle of covenant theology. A principle of Interpretation of Covenants, of Application of Covenants, the Nature of Covenants. Paul says not only biblical covenants, but all covenants. Let’s go to Galatians 3:15.

“To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void” (Galatians 3:15-17 ESV).

In verse 15, this idea of “ratified” in the ESV comes from the Greek word kuro’o, and Bauer-Danker, the premier Greek lexicon or dictionary defines it as “to confirm, to ratify, to validate or to make legally binding.” Although the covenant of grace goes all the way back to Eden, note that Paul is saying here that it was not ratified until Abraham. Now note that in verse 15, Paul begins with a general principle of covenants. Then, as he moves down through verses 16 and 17 he applies that general principle of covenants to the particular case of the Mosaic administration of the one covenant of grace—that’s what he means by the Law coming in. Paul says that once the covenant of grace was ratified at the time of Abraham, no modifications may be introduced even by later administrations of the covenant of grace, including the Mosaic administration.

So, it is because there is only one covenant of grace throughout Scripture that we Presbyterians apply the sign of admission into the visible church to the children of believers, for we are not free to change the way the covenant is administered. It is not because the Reformers didn’t sufficiently push off from Rome that we baptize babies, it is because of our covenant theology which we receive, we believe, from the Scriptures. It is also because the covenant of grace is one across the various administrations that we need not seek for proof of continuity between the Abrahamic administration and the New Covenant administration of the one covenant of grace. In fact, because of the underlying unity of the one covenant of grace across the ages, which cannot be altered once ratified, says Paul, that we actually would need to find evidence in the New Testament that God intends to change who it is who receives the rite of admission to the covenant community. Because of the underlying continuity of the one covenant of grace, it is discontinuities, and not continuities, between the Old Covenant and New Testament administrations, that need positive proofs from the New Testament. We don’t have to go to the New Testament and ask if there are specific cases where it says in explicit terms that babies were baptized. Because of the underlying unity of the one covenant of grace, you have to look for a command to no longer give the sign of the covenant of grace to the children of believers. The underlying unity drives the belief that we assume continuity unless there is evidence in the New Testament of discontinuity.

So the absence of explicit revelation in the New Testament on whether children are to be included in the visible church actually works in favor, not against, the inclusion of children in the visible church. Because of this principle of covenant administration, the default setting, says Paul, is covenantal continuity. But, in fact, we can find more evidence than just these principles of covenant theology that the children of believers are to be included in the visible church as members.

The God-Given Righteousness of Noah

The following post was originally written in 2007. I thought maybe it would be a good time to post something edifying about Noah in light of the recent unpleasantness.

“This is the genealogy of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God. And Noah begot three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.” Genesis 6:9-12
The God who promised to send the Seed of the Woman to crush the Serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15) gave Noah the faith to believe this promise. God was the ultimate basis of Noah’s righteousness. The way in which the Seed of the Woman would crush the Serpent’s head, destroying Satan’s power through sin over God’s chosen, had not yet been revealed. Noah did not know how God’s promised Seed would save him from sin, he just believed that he would. As we study through the Old Testament, we’ll learn that God reveals his plan to save sinners progressively, a little bit at a time.

Our lives are like that. We set goals, but we don’t know everything we’ll need to do yet, or what will happen to us before we reach our goal, but these details become clear to us day by day. This is the way it works with the history of God’s work of redemption from sin. First we learn the big picture: God had announced his plan to send Someone to defeat the great enemy of our souls; then, bit by bit, who this Someone is, and how he’s going to defeat this enemy slowly became clear to people like Adam, Seth, Enoch and Noah one detail at a time. A few of these details are revealed to us in the righteous life of Noah.

By his grace, God promised to deliver Noah from the flood of judgment which he and the entire world deserved (Genesis 6:18), and Noah believed God’s promise, so one of the factors of Noah’s righteous life was faith. This faith in God’s promise was the basis for Noah’s righteous life, but it was not his faith that saved him, it was the gracious, promise-keeping God who chose to save him that was the ultimate basis of his righteousness and his salvation. Noah was a righteous man because God made Noah a righteous man.

The other factor that adds up to righteousness for Noah was his obedience to God’s commands. God gave Noah very specific instructions to build an ark (Genesis 6:14-16), what size to build it, what to build it with, how to build it and how many of the various beasts, birds and bugs to gather into the ark (Genesis 6:19-20). The testimony of Moses was that Noah obeyed all that God commanded him to do (Genesis 6:22). Yet this obedience by itself did not earn for Noah his status as a righteous man. Remember he was righteous by God’s grace through the faith granted to him by God (see Ephesians 2:8-9) with which he believed the God of the promise of salvation from sin, Satan and the flood. Noah’s faith was the root of Noah’s obedience. Noah’s obedience was the fruit of Noah’s faith. Therefore Noah’s faith evidenced by his obedience was what Moses was talking about when he wrote that Noah was a righteous man (Genesis 6:9).

God saves us the same way. All of us were born with Adam’s guilt legally imputed to us (Romans 5:12-14) by virtue of the fact that Adam represented us in the covenant with God which he violated when he ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3; cf. Hosea 6:7). In addition to this, we were born, having inherited a corrupt human nature that wants nothing but sin (Romans 3:10-18), unable to do anything (Romans 8:7) that will please him (Hebrews 11:6) and save ourselves. As things stand, we deserve death and an eternity of suffering the wrath of God.

But out of the mass of condemned humanity, a remnant finds favor with God (Genesis 6:8; cf. Romans 11:5-7). Because of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection for sinners, God looks on this remnant with grace and gives them the faith (Acts 13:48; 18:27) to trust the work of Christ that is preached to everybody (Mark 16:15). We then rely on his grace to give us the obedience with which we show our thanks and love for the work of Christ on the cross (John 14:15). So we learn how God saved us in the Bible, and we also learn how to respond to this good news in grateful love by learning the commands of God—because true faith works by love (Galatians 5:6). That’s how we can be remembered as a righteous man or a righteous woman after our story has been told, just like Noah, by a God-given faith in Christ that obeys God’s commands.

Westminster Releases Tome on Doctrine of Scripture

Pleasing to the eye, desirable to make one wise 😉 Get one for yourself, and one for your church library!

Edited by Richard Gaffin and Peter Lillback of Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA

Edited by Richard Gaffin and Peter Lillback of Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA. Click image to view at wtsbooks.com.

Sermon Notes: Crossing the Jordan, Part 1

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The following are notes from the sermon I heard yesterday, October 13, 2013 at Mid Cities Presbyterian Church. The sermon is called “Crossing the Jordan, Part 1,” and is based on Joshua 3:1-5. Rev. Joseph L. Troutman preached the sermon. Some of the material below is original to me, however.

1Then Joshua rose early in the morning and they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan, he and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. 2 At the end of three days the officers went through the camp 3 and commanded the people, “As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it. 4 Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.” 5 Then Joshua said to the people,“Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.”

The big idea of this sermon is that the gap between God and Man is caused by our sin, and is bridged only by Christ, who is God with us.

1. Follow Me (verses 1-3) they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan The distance between Shittim and the Jordan River is about 12 miles. The trip took about a day.

and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. Day 1:Their arrival, there for partial day; Day 2: “Lodged” all day; Day 3: There a partial day before crossing the river. Similar to the timing of Christ in the tomb–he wasn’t in the tomb for precisely 72 hours, but part of the first day, all of the second, and rose before sunup on day three.

Condition of the Jordan River, see verse 15: (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest) It was springtime, and the river was turbulent.

“As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it. Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.”

The ark of the covenant symbolized God’s presence. It was holy because God is holy. In the Bible, all visible signs of spiritual truths are so closely associated with the spiritual truth that it is identified as if it were the spiritual truth. In the Hebrew text of Joshua 3:17, the ark is not only called the ark of the covenant, but the covenant itself. This is why some mistake baptism as the thing that actually saves, and that the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper are actually transformed into the literal body and blood of Christ. The sign is called by the name of the reality, but the sign only points to the reality; the sign is not the reality. That’s why, in chapter 27, section 2 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, it reads:

There is, in every sacrament, a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other.

In a sense, the ark was treated by the Israelites the way the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are treated by Bible-believing Christians today.

2. A Safe Distance (verse 4)

Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it,

Two thousand cubits is about three thousand feet–over half a mile. This distance which the Israelites were to keep between themselves and the ark of the covenant symbolizes the distance between the holy God and sinful humanity. Although God was with his people, their sins still separate them from him; however, the Levites were graciously allowed to carry the ark, and thus the priesthood does its job of mediating between the holy God and sinners. They represent the people to God, and thus he is near his people while keeping a safe distance for the good of his people. This nearness of God with Man, while at the same time being separate from them is ultimately bridged in the person of Jesus, our Great High Priest.

3. Consecration (verse 5)

Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.”

The people must set themselves apart from unclean things, as well as from common things. God is holy, so they must be holy. God is clean and he is uncommon, therefore, so should the Israelites make this spiritual fact ceremonially visible in the same way the ark makes the presence of the Lord ceremonially visible. They were to wash their clothes and abstain from sex, as in Exodus chapter 19, which gives a good description of the way the people must consecrate themselves and keep a safe distance from Mount Sinai, and the severity of the consequences if they do not.

the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it.Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people; and they washed their garments. And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman.”

Similarly, Christians should see themselves as called out from the unclean and the common, to be God’s chosen possession.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).

“…for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” Miracles are a sign of God’s power announcing that the observer is in the presence of God. Christ himself so far surpasses Old Testament miracles that if we are unaffected by the fact of his incarnation, righteousness, substitution for us on the cross, his resurrection and ascension to be enthroned on the right hand of God the Father, this speaks ill of our spiritual condition. Jesus, the God-Man bridges the gap between the holy God and sinful humanity, and consecrates those who repent and believe that they might draw near to God to serve and worship him.

The Hermeneutics of Insider Syncretism

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On this week’s episode of the Christ the Center podcast (#263, “Insider Movements“), Dr. David Garner is interviewed about his recent article in Themelios, “High Stakes: Insider Movement Hermeneutics and the Gospel,” analyzing the hermeneutics underlying the Insider Movement, a sociological and anthropological approach to contextualizing evangelism without calling on people whose identities are tied to other world religions like Judaism, Islam and Hinduism to disassociate themselves from those religious, cultural and family ties, but to work inside them and transform their approach to those religions in light of the teachings of Jesus. While it is noble to attempt to find a way to minimize the risk of loss or danger a Jew, Muslim or Hindu (for example) may face upon becoming a Christian, it is unfaithful to the Jesus they claim to follow if they would settle for living to distort their new-found faith with the teachings and practices of the religion with which they have previously been associated. Living to syncretize Christianity with non-Christian world religions is not a faith worth living for or dying for.

This movement is clearly in contradiction with the teachings of Jesus to those who would follow him. Jesus carried his cross and died on it for those who believe, and he calls on believers to take up their cross, follow him, and be willing to live publicly for him and, if need be, accept rejection by leaders of other religions, communities and families, even if such rejection includes dying for him.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 10:34-39 ESV).

I know it’s easy for me to say, and to criticize those who would find a way around it, but I too have a cross of self-denial to carry if I am to follow Jesus. I must kill my own sin (a struggle which involves suffering and risk of social rejection on my part), and publicly acknowledge Jesus as my Lord and Savior and associate myself formally with his people, the Church (Hebrews 10:25), serving him with my time, talent and treasure–loving, forgiving and giving to my brothers until it hurts. Should the time come that the culture or community in which I live demands that I deny my Lord Jesus Christ, I am called upon to defy such a demand and willingly suffer the consequences in reliance upon the grace and goodness of God, knowing that if such is happening to me, it is no more than what he sacrificed for me.

One of the interesting things about this movement which Dr. Garner points out in the article and the interview is that the intellectual source of such innovation in world missions comes from the same root as the church growth movement–Donald McGavran (d. 1990) and his School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary (formerly the famous School of World Mission).

Donald Anderson McGavran (December 15, 1897–1990) was a missiologist who was the founding Dean (1965) and Professor of Mission, Church Growth, and South Asian Studies at the School of World Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. A child of missionaries in India and later amissionary himself (1923–1961), McGavran spent most of his life trying to identify and overcome barriers to effective evangelism or Christian conversion.

McGavran identified differences of caste and economic social position as major barriers to the spread of Christianity. His work substantially changed the methods by which missionaries identify and prioritize groups of persons for missionary work and stimulated the Church Growth Movement. McGavran developed his church growth principles after rejecting the popular view that mission was ‘philanthropy, education, medicine, famine relief, evangelism, and world friendship’ and become convinced that good deeds – while necessary – ‘must never replace the essential task of mission, discipling the peoples of the earth’. [HT: Wikipedia]

While McGavran’s efforts in his time were more theologically conservative and a reaction against liberal missionary trends, a student of his named C. Peter Wagner built on McGavran’s principles and create the church growth movement which has brought us such phenomena as seeker-sensitive worship and the modern megachurch. Incidentally, he is also the one who coined the phrase New Apostolic Reformation for the worldwide sweep of Charismatic and Word of Faith theology with a special emphasis on the restoration of the apostolic office, which movement in America has recently frightened the political Left because so many who would fall under this umbrella have modified the theonomist views of R. J. Rushdoony (for more on that, see this) and declared that they would “take dominion” over every sphere of influence in America.

Syncretism in the name of saving one’s life is no way to spread Christianity. A new generation around the world must hear the age-old truism: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” [paraphrasing Tertullian, Apology chapter 50].

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