What do you get when you cross an Irish rock star with a Bible scholar/pastor? An interesting conversation between Bono and Eugene Peterson, the author of the English paraphrase translation of the Bible, The Message.
Monthly Archives: April 2016
Are Baby Dedications Biblical?
Of the few people I follow on Twitter, British evangelical writer, Andrew Wilson, is right there at the top. He has the mind of a scholar and the heart of a pastor, young enough to be conversant about postmodernity, and yet wise enough to challenge me to be more humble before Scripture. In his latest blog post at Think, Wilson challenges me to consider if baby dedications, as practiced in many interdenominational churches today, are really Biblical. His answer: They are not, but services of thanksgiving and prayers for newborns are still good ideas.
I worship in a community of faith where such baby dedications are practiced. Who is not moved when the pastor prays over a miniature human in their arms?
But it really is rather odd, if you think about it.
Consider this: Until the last thirty or forty years or so, baby dedications were rarely, if ever, practiced in any evangelical church. Why has such a novelty, with the slimmest of Biblical backing, taken off in interdenominational churches today? What Wilson does not dive into that much is summarized by his Tweet from a few months ago, “baby dedications are perhaps the most obvious symbol of credobaptist cultic deprivation.”
What I think Andrew Wilson means by that is this: Modern evangelical churches are drawn to baby dedications because they serve as a compromise solution to the long-standing baptism debate: infant baptism (paedobaptism) vs. believer’s baptism (credobaptism). With baby dedication, it is not to be confused with baptism, while it still symbolizes the notion of bringing a child into the community, passing on the faith to the next generation (or so we hope). So, while baby dedication steps around the controversy (which is understandable), it nevertheless fails to engage the Christian to fully think through how the covenants of God work within Scripture, and how baptism is related (I stand guilty myself). So, we get a workable solution that makes peace between the differing viewpoints, but at the expense of shallowing the theological depth of our Biblical thinking in our churches.
As a first step, it might be better to rename “baby dedications” as “parent dedications” instead, as these events are more about the parents dedicating themselves to present the Gospel to their children, along with the help of the surrounding church community, and about praying to God that He would touch the hearts of those children, over the coming years, with His Word of Truth and Life. Any thoughts?
When is a Gentile Not a Gentile (or Pagan or Heathen)?
A question came up the other night in a Bible study. When we read Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus is describing the principles of church discipline. If someone who claims to be a Christian, but who acts in a non-Christian manner and will not change their behavior, what is the rest of the community supposed to do?
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector (Matt 18:15-17 ESV)
Jesus’ use of the description “Gentile” for someone who is making up their own rules for Christian behavior sounds confusing. Are there not “Gentiles” who are genuine Christians? If someone is already a “Gentile,” that is a non-Jewish person, how can you then be disciplined and treated as a “Gentile?” How do we make sense of this?
Four Views on Hell
It is rare when a Christian mega-church pastor winds up somehow on the cover of TIME magazine. But when a story about (now former) pastor Rob Bell was plastered on the front of TIME five years ago in 2011, people took notice.
As the mind behind the popular Nooma series of videos, Rob Bell had written a controversial book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. In the book, Bell raises a lot of provocative questions about the classic Christian doctrine of hell, but he does not provide very firm answers. In his engaging and winsome way, Bell believes that when people experience rough times in this earthly life, such experiences can be truly hell. Who can argue with that? But as to whether or not hell exists in the next life, Bell is not so sure.
Uh-oh. There are yellow flags here.
As there should be.
Is Everyone a Child of God?
Sometimes our good intentions as Christians can betray us and take us down the road of bad, confusing theology. For example, consider the sentiment often expressed by some Christians that “everyone is a child of God,” or that “we are all brothers and sisters in God’s Kingdom,” without qualification.
In a sense, there is some Biblical justification for such statements. After all, the Apostle Paul in his evangelistic sermon to the crowd assembled upon Mars Hill in Acts 17:22-33, quotes with approval from Aratus’s poem “Phainomena,” this line: “For we are indeed his offspring (v.28).” By virtue of being created, Christian and non-Christian alike, we all share a common humanity, as brothers and sisters, and children of God. Sounds good. Right?
Think again. Read the passage carefully.
Paul goes on to say that God “commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him (Jesus Christ) from the dead (v.30b-31).” Elsewhere in the Bible, in John 1:12-13, we read, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.“
In other words, faith in Christ is the necessary prerequisite before we can know truly that we are children of God, in the sense of being in right relationship with Him. By virtue of God’s saving work of sending His Son Jesus to die for us and our sins, and raising Him from the dead, are we then adopted as children of God (Romans 8:14-17). Being adopted as a child of God, in terms of salvation, is not a natural born right. It is 100% solely a gift from God (Read all of Romans 8, while you are at it, to get the full picture).
So, while it is true, loosely speaking, that we share a common humanity as God’s offspring as His creatures, we must be careful to maintain the Biblical distinction that only those who receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior have the right to truly become children of God, and therefore reconciled with their Creator. If we fail to carefully honor this distinction, as sometimes happens, we risk confusing our unbelieving neighbor to think that they are somehow “okay” with God, when in reality they remain alienated and utterly cut off from Him. Such sloppy theology can also lull the believer to think their salvation is due to some sort of natural birthright, something to be taken for granted, instead of causing us to throw ourselves down in humility at the feet of our Lord and King each and every day, and leaning on His tender and gracious mercies.
Let us not be careless with God’s Word. Let us handle it well.