A (Very) Brief Explanation: Why are there Catholics and Protestants?

It may seem a bit arrogant, but I think this might be the shortest summary of the historical development of the Roman Catholic Church and the basic reason why there is such a thing as a Protestant.

My purpose in this explanation is not to throw negative light on anyone who claims to be Catholic or anyone who is a member of the Roman Catholic Church. Not all Catholics believe the same things, just like not all Baptists believe the same things, and there are many members of churches (of all sorts) who have no idea what their church actually teaches on a given subject. So, I invite further conversation; I do not purposefully condemn any particular reader or someone you might know.

First, it is complicated, but Catholics have no unique claim on history.

Simply put, the Roman Catholic Church as it is today, in its doctrines and in its administration, did not exist until (at the earliest) the year 1215 AD. The Fourth Lateran Council ratified some of the teachings and most of the organizational forms that are distinctive of and essential to Roman Catholicism today.1 But it was not until the Council of Trent, which met sporadically from 1545 to 1563 that the main doctrines which separate Rome from Protestants were clearly articulated and ratified.2 Therefore, regardless of what my Roman Catholic friends might say, the Roman Church is not the oldest and most united church. It has a complicated past, and it has no unique claim on the Apostles or early Christians.

Second, Catholics and Protestants alike see the need for reform in the late Middle Ages.

Before and during the 1500s, there were many Christians within the Roman Church who were calling for reform. At least as early as the 1300s, with John Wycliffe in England in and Jan Hus in Bohemia (as well as many others), good Roman Catholics were writing and preaching and working for reforms within the Roman Catholic Church. By all observers, including Roman Catholics, Western Christianity had become so abusive and scandalous that something had to change.

Many historians look back and see that the leadership of the Roman Church was unwilling to change, so Catholic priests, local friars, and Church theologians started protesting. The quintessential moment which seems to capture the scene in the early 1500s was that evening of October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther (a German monk, Catholic priest, and promising theologian) nailed his invitation to scholarly debate on the castle-church door in Wittenberg. The nailing of the 95 theses was a historic moment, but there were others like it happening all over Europe.

Zwingli, in Zurich, encouraged his congregation to eat meat during a Roman fasting day. English men and women were sharing copies of Wycliffe’s translation of the Latin Bible, and they were illegally memorizing passages to recite to one another so that they might all hear the Bible in their own language. Spain and France were killing and exiling those who taught against Rome, and that’s how John Calvin (a Frenchmen) ended up in Geneva, where he wrote the first comprehensive systematic theology textbook for instructing new Christians.

All of this came to a head when Rome called a council to deal once-and-for-all with the reformers. This was the notorious Council of Trent.

Third, Rome formally and officially condemned all Protestants.

It is a historical and present fact that the Roman Catholic Church has formally set itself against Protestants, and it has never pulled back from that clear and official statement. At the Council of Trent, Rome condemned to hell anyone who believes some of the most fundamental doctrines among all Protestants. The canons or decrees of Trent anathematize3 anyone who believes that the Bible is the chief authority over all tradition and papal decrees. They also condemned anyone who believes that sinners are justified by grace alone through faith alone in the person and work of Christ.4

These statements are clear, they are recorded for anyone to see in the records of that council, and they are repeated in the Roman Catholic Catechism that is still used by Rome today.

It seems to me that Protestants and Roman Catholics can indeed be friends today. But it also seems to me that we must all recognize the differences between them are not mere preference nor are they minor. As I said above, though, it is likely that most Roman Catholics do not know the official teaching of Rome, just the same as most people who claim to be Baptist do not know what Baptists have historically taught.

Therefore, rather than using labels and throwing verbal grenades, I think we all might do well to simply have good conversations about the biblical gospel.

Endnotes

1. The Roman Catholic Church today shares many common doctrines with Protestants. These are not the doctrines that make Rome distinct as a Church. As time moved on, Rome increasingly articulated and demanded adherence to doctrines and organizational structures that are clearly absent from Scripture.

2. This article by Joe Carter does a good job of summarizing some of the main points of the Council of Trent as a historical moment that continues to impact Protestants and Roman Catholics today. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/9-things-you-should-know-about-the-council-of-trent/

3. Anathematize is a fancy word that refers to a religious condemnation. The word anathema is a transliteration from the Greek ἀναθεμα. This was the word the Apostle Paul used to condemn any preacher of a false gospel (Galatians 1:8-9), and the word was and is used by the Roman Catholic Church to condemn anyone who opposes or diverts from official church teaching.

4. The key word in these doctrinal phrases is “alone.” Rome did teach and still teaches that faith in Christ is necessary for justification. The disagreement was never about the necessity of faith, but the sufficiency of it. Is a sinner justified before God by simply believing or having faith in the finished work of Christ? Rome says, “No!” Protestants say, “Yes!”

Baptism: True and False, Ordered and Disordered

With various denominations and churches practicing different forms of baptism, how can we express disagreement and charity at the same time? Must we refuse to make any judgments about what is true baptism? Or must we isolate ourselves from anyone who disagrees with us on the subject? For my part, I want to hold my convictions about what I believe the Bible teaches regarding baptism, and I also want to be charitable toward those who disagree. This brief essay is an attempt to do both.

Elements and Forms

It is important that we begin a discussion on the practice of baptism by clarifying those features or elements of baptism that are indispensable and those that are orderly. Indispensable elements are of the nature or central to the biblical meaning of baptism. These are the elements touched and affected by what baptism is. To lose or modify the elements is to lose baptism altogether. The forms of baptism, however, are those features that may more or less closely align with the biblical mandate and method.

To lose or modify a given form may affect the propriety of baptism but does not necessarily nullify the act altogether. For example, one might be truly baptized at a summer youth camp or during a Sunday church gathering, though one of these is inappropriate and disordered, but a baptism observed among a gathering of Mormons or Roman Catholics is not baptism at all.

A true baptism is one that is observed or performed in keeping with the essential nature of its meaning, and any other practice one might call baptism is simply false or pseudo-baptism. True or biblical baptism is the initiatory oath-sign whereby individual believers become partakers in the visible kingdom of Jesus Christ, existing Christians affirm new Christians, and Christians initially unite with one another (for a more robust argument and explanation of this definition, see the essay HERE). Our definition of the meaning of baptism, must set our limitations for what we may refer to as baptism. Any baptism that does not include these elements is, by definition, a pseudo-baptism.

Let us briefly specify and consider the explicit and implicit elements contained in our definition of baptism.

First, true baptism is a conscious act on the part of the one being baptized; he or she must believe the gospel and intend to publicly confess Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Baptism is the public pledge or oath of the one being baptized, committing him or her to believe and obey Christ. Such an oath requires awareness on the part of the part of the one being baptized. Furthermore, the biblical observance of baptism necessarily associates the one being baptized with Jesus Christ, and the consistent biblical command is that those who believe in the person and work of Christ are to profess that belief publicly in baptism. Indeed, the biblical components of conversion cited above – repentance, faith, confession, receiving the Holy Spirit, and baptism – necessitate conscious intent and action by the one being baptized.

Second, true baptism is explicitly connected to the preaching of the gospel, the name of Jesus Christ, and the pronouncement of Christ’s kingdom. That is, baptism must be in the name of Jesus Christ. This is not merely a verbal formula, but a much fuller identification with the God of the Bible and the person through whom God offers salvation to sinners. In Jesus’s commission, He says new believers or disciples are to be baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,”[1] and the Apostle Peter exhorted his hearers to be baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ.”[2] But we are not to assume that Peter misunderstood Jesus’s instructions, nor may we impose some wooden linguistic conflict between Peter’s action and Jesus commission. Rather, the two are harmonious; Jesus is the only Savior offered to sinners by the triune God of Scripture. There is no other god than the one who reveals Himself as Father, Son, and Spirit; and there is no other savior than the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ.

The teaching of Scripture on the whole is that baptism is inextricably connected with believing in the triune God and the gospel of salvation through the work of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the specific language spoken during one’s baptism – “in the name of Jesus” or “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” – is far less important than the message associated with that baptism. If the baptism is explicitly associated with the biblical gospel, of which Jesus Christ is the sum and substance, and the triune God of Scripture, then it may well be a true baptism.

Third, true baptism is observed as a conscious affirmation by at least one existing Christian, uniting the one being baptized with the visible kingdom of Christ. The biblical pattern shows that assemblies of Christians are the normal context for this affirmation, but we will consider this further below. For now, we want to address the regular, but unfounded, assumption that there is no biblical pattern or that the pattern is not clear enough to produce any binding requirements. We might turn to the hub passage for discovering the meaning of baptism (Matthew 28:18-20), and we might argue that Jesus requires at least one existing disciple to affirm any new disciple by baptism. But we may just as easily demonstrate that the earliest disciples understood this requirement and practiced it consistently.

The first recorded New Covenant baptisms happened at the end of Acts 2. Altogether there were about one-hundred and twenty “brothers” or disciples of Jesus gathered in Jerusalem, awaiting the arrival of the Holy Spirit.[3] Peter acted as the spokesman, and he called all the Jews in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost to “repent and be baptized… in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.”[4] Those who “received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”[5] There is an implicit affirmation of these new converts (in the act of baptizing them) on the part of Peter and the rest of the existing disciples. And while a “church” is not explicitly mentioned there, those believers who were baptized were counted as being “added that day” to the existing community of believers.

In Acts 8 the pattern continues. Philip traveled into Samaria, and he preached the “good news about the kingdom of God in the name of Jesus Christ.”[6] There were some who “paid attention” to Philip’s teaching, and they “believed” Philip’s message, thus, “they were baptized.”[7] In Samaria, Philip is the only existing disciple at first, so he alone is the one who affirmed these new Samarian converts by baptism. It is significant, however, that “when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John.”[8] This appears to reinforce the biblical understanding that Christian affirmation was an essential aspect of baptism, since the Christians in Jerusalem seem to act on their responsibility to investigate and participate in what is going on in Samaria.

Though the transitional period recorded in Acts, embracing the New Covenant while leaving the old behind, provides us with strange occurrences, like the Samaritans’ delay in “receiving the Holy Spirit,” the record nonetheless repeatedly displays the elemental nature of baptism.[9] Consider Saul of Tarsus in Acts 9. Saul, later known as the Apostle Paul, came to believe that Jesus was the Christ, and he was baptized by Ananias as a public affirmation of their mutual “brotherhood” in the covenantal kingdom of Christ.[10] Paul consciously professed faith in Christ, this occurred in the context of his understanding of the biblical gospel, and Ananias affirmed Paul’s profession. Consider Cornelius and his “relatives and close friends” in Acts 10.[11] They believed the message Peter preached, as evidenced by their having “received the Holy Spirit,” and they were “baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” on the command of Peter.[12] Cornelius and the rest consciously professed faith in Christ, this occurred in the context of their understanding of the biblical gospel, and Peter (along with the “believers from among the circumcised who had come with” him) affirmed their professions.[13]

As we continue reading through the book of Acts, we discover the same pattern again and again. Lydia and those of her household believed the gospel as Paul preached it, they all consciously professed faith in Christ by baptism, which was affirmed by Paul and his companions.[14] The Philippian jailer and his family heard Paul preach “the word of the Lord,” they “believed in God,” and were “baptized at once” in a conscious profession of their new belief, which was affirmed by Paul and Silas.[15] Crispus and his “entire household,” as well as “many of the Corinthians,” heard Paul preach the gospel and believed it. They were baptized in a public and conscious profession of their faith, and Paul (and probably Silas and Timothy too) affirmed them in baptism.[16]

In summary, true baptism is a conscious and public profession of faith, it is explicitly connected to the preaching of the gospel, and it is observed as a conscious affirmation by at least one existing Christian which displays unity among new believers and old ones within the visible kingdom of Christ. If any one of these elements is absent, then the rite may be religious, and it may even be called baptism, but it is not.

The Mormon ceremony is not baptism since they proclaim a gospel contrary to the biblical one. The Roman Catholic rite is not baptism for the same reason, and also because they remove the necessity of conscious belief. And while Baptists are so very glad for evangelical Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, and Anglicans, these paedobaptists are not actually observing baptism when they sprinkle or pour water over the heads of the infant children of believers. Such ones are not able to understand the gospel, nor are they capable of any conscious profession of faith in Christ.

Ordered and Disordered

During the Protestant Reformation, theologians and church leaders hammered out two essential marks of a true church – (1) the right preaching of the gospel and (2) the right administration of the ordinances or sacraments.[17] In the generations that followed, these marks of a true church were clarified and solidified as the starting point for a biblical doctrine of the church.

However, there was also a growing desire among many Protestants to recognize differences of practice within the stream of true churches. For example, Benjamin Keach was a Baptist who argued that the essence of a church is its members, therefore a “church” is “a congregation of godly Christians who, being first baptized upon the profession of faith… do ordinarily meet together in one place for the public service and worship of God, among whom the Word of God and sacraments are duly administered according to Christ’s institution.”[18]

So a church could still be a church without pastors or elders, but Keach considered such a church “disorderly” or “not acting according to the rule of the gospel, having something lacking.”[19] Observing this historic language and category distinction, we should note a significant difference between a church that is false and one that is disordered. So too, we must recognize a difference between a baptism that is false (i.e., not baptism at all) and one that is disordered.

In the Bible-belt of the Americanized Christian subculture, it is quite common for individuals and churches to sense a freedom to practice baptism in pragmatic and even expressive ways. It is not unusual to see baptisms during “children’s church” (an age-segregated gathering of children in a separate part of the building from the adults), youth camps (week-long summer activities where teens from multiple churches come together with a strong evangelistic emphasis), and in isolation (a father baptizing a professing child or a pastor baptizing a professing believer apart from any gathering of the church).

There is no question that such baptisms are novel; one can hardly imagine what the Apostle Paul or Martin Luther might say if either of these men were to see a group of children being baptized in a portable swimming pool on a beach-themed stage during children’s church. But, pastorally and ecclesiologically, we must decide not merely whether this baptism is unusual, but whether it is baptism at all. The category distinction between true-and-false and ordered-and-disordered is helpful to us here.

Any baptism that includes the elements of biblical baptism can be considered “true” baptism, though it may be disordered either by circumstance or imagination. However, any baptism that excludes one or more elements of biblical baptism cannot be considered “true” baptism, even if it is performed in a more orderly fashion. Thus, an infant baptism observed with the highest care in a Presbyterian church gathering on a Sunday morning is a false baptism because the one being baptized is not participating as a conscious confessor of Christ. Whatever the intentions, what is experienced here is not baptism.

On the other hand, a young adult may be truly baptized by only one other Christian who has already publicly professed faith in Christ through baptism, even if that young adult is being baptized in a natural pool on the side of a road after having just heard and believed the gospel. In this second case, the person is a conscious believer in Christ and is pursuing baptism as a public profession, and there is also at least one existing Christian present to affirm the new believer’s profession by baptism. This is a disordered baptism, but it is a true one.

This brief essay argues for a perspective and practice of baptism that can equip a local church with the pastoral posture of simultaneous conviction and charity. If baptism means anything, then some of those experiences which are called “baptism” are not actually baptisms. However, an odd or strange or novel baptism may still be true. Each church will have to decide for themselves what they will accept as baptism. May the Lord help us all to be faithful (obey Christ’s commands) and gracious (deal with one another charitably as we aim toward faithfulness).


[1] Matthew 28:19.

[2] Acts 2:38.

[3] Acts 1:12, 15; cf. “they were all together in one place” Acts 2:1.

[4] Acts 2:38.

[5] Acts 2:41.

[6] Acts 8:12.

[7] Acts 8:11-12.

[8] Acts 8:14.

[9] Acts 8:14-17.

[10] Acts 9:1-19.

[11] Acts 10:24,

[12] Acts 10:44-48.

[13] Acts 10:45.

[14] Acts 16:14-15.

[15] Acts 16:30-34.

[16] Acts 18:5-8.

[17] Sometimes one would argue for a third mark, church discipline, but those who maintained the limit of two would usually understand that church discipline was a subcategory of the second mark. If baptism and the Lord’s Supper are being administered aright, then church discipline will surely be a faithful practice as well.

[18] Benjamin Keach, The Glory of a True Church, Kindle (Pensacola, FL: Chapel Library, 2018). 1.1.

[19] Keach, 1.3.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Keach, Benjamin. The Glory of a True Church. Kindle. Pensacola, FL: Chapel Library, 2018.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016.

The Meaning and Practice of Baptism

Baptism means this person is now a Christian, these Christians affirm this one, and this Christian is now united with these.

Though baptism is commonly practiced by all Christian churches, the meaning of baptism can differ significantly from one local church to the next. Gregg Allison summarizes the historic Christian conviction when he writes, “Both baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the ‘visible elements that are sufficient and necessary for the existence of a true church.’”[1] In other words, without baptism and the Lord’s Supper, there is no church. These are the twin signs of the New Covenant, which the Lord Jesus Christ instituted, giving them to His disciples. Protestants called the right administration of these two ordinances the second mark of a true church, the first being the right preaching of the gospel.

Among various Protestant traditions, Baptists have historically distinguished themselves by arguing for a distinctive view of baptism, and in this way earned their moniker. Specifically, Baptists have emphasized the necessity of a conscious profession of faith, calling their view believer’s baptism, whereas other Protestants have put more weight on God’s objective covenantal promises.[2] Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, both differing fundamentally from Protestants, emphasize a sacramental and even sacerdotal function of baptism, uniting the one baptized with the universal church.[3]

This essay, following the historic Baptist position, will argue that true or biblical baptism is the initiatory oath-sign whereby individual believers become partakers in the visible kingdom of Jesus Christ, existing Christians affirm new Christians, and Christians initially unite with one another. We will explain this thesis by articulating the meaning of baptism. With this as our focus, we will maintain a particular concentration on the biblical institution of the ordinance.

Jesus’s profound words in Matthew 28:18-20 will serve as a centerpiece for our discussion on baptism. In Matthew’s Gospel this passage is the climax of Jesus’s teaching on the church, and baptism is a key feature. Following the thesis of this essay, we will argue in three parts that baptism means (1) this person is now a Christian, (2) these Christians affirmthis one, and (3) this Christian is now united with these. And, finally, we will offer some practical answers to the questions of baptism’s proper subjects and context.

This Person is Now a Christian

The first biblical command to baptize New Covenant believers and the basic substance for any doctrine of Christian baptism is found in Jesus’s Great Commission at the conclusion of Matthew’s Gospel. After Jesus’s resurrection from the dead and before He ascended to the seat of highest authority in the cosmos, Jesus commissioned His disciples to be His remaining witnesses on earth. There is much more to learn from Matthew 28:18-20, but this passage must be our starting point for any discussion of baptism, and we must understand the passage itself as well as how it relates to others.

Evangelical paedobaptists and credobaptists both agree with this starting point. Paedobaptists are those who believe Christian baptism is for believers and their children[4] or “converts” and “their families.”[5] Credobaptists are those who believe Christian baptism is only for new disciples or believers who consciously mean to profess their belief in Jesus Christ. Though they disagree about the subjects of baptism, both paedobaptists and credobaptist agree that Jesus’s Great Commission statement is the place to begin a discussion about baptism. John Dagg (a nineteenth-century credobaptist) and John Sartelle (a twentieth-century paedobaptist), like many others from each camp, both begin their arguments on the meaning of baptism with this same passage.[6]

For clarity, Matthew 28:18-20 says,

“Jesus came and said to [His disciples], ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”[7] 

Christians have long understood that this passage forms the mandate and informs the method of Christian activity in the world until Christ returns. In every generation, those who are disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ are to give themselves to the task of helping others become and live as Christ’s disciples. Jesus commissioned His people to proliferate, not by the point of the sword or political strategy, but by preaching the gospel and calling sinners to repent (i.e., turn from sin) [8] and believe (i.e., trust in Jesus as Savior and submit to Him as Lord).[9] Those sinners who do repent and believe are to be baptized in the name of the Triune God, brought into fellowship with other believers, and taught to think and act as followers of Christ. This transition, which is the center of our study, from unbeliever to believer or non-Christian to Christian is called conversion.

Robert Stein notes five components of conversion. He writes, “In the experience of becoming a Christian, five integrally related components took place at the same time, usually on the same day: repentance, faith [or belief], confession [or professing belief in Christ], receiving the Holy Spirit, and baptism.”[10] Bobby Jamieson agrees with Stein, but he emphasizes that Baptists view a logical and even a chronological progression, such that one is technically a Christian (i.e., a repenting, believing, and regenerated person) before he or she is biblically baptized.[11] With their Protestant brethren, Baptists believe that justification is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. However, to Stein’s and Jamieson’s point, we must not overstate this theological reality to the detriment of the visible manifestation of conversion, which speaks of more (though not less) than justification. 

Repentance, belief, and regeneration are not visible in themselves, but baptism is.[12] In fact, baptism is thevisible display of conversion. Moreover, Jamieson says, “as a matter of systematic-theological description, it is appropriate to identify regeneration as a discrete moment which should precede baptism… Yet for all these necessary refinements we need to make sure we can still speak like the Bible speaks.”[13] In other words, we must perceive conversion as a unified compilation of specific actions, of which baptism is one. Indeed, baptism is the visible action which announces and even pledges entrance into the benefits and obligations of the New Covenant. In baptism, the one being baptized is pledging himself to Christ and Christ is pledging Himself as well.

This feature of baptism, which centers on the idea that baptism is the New Covenant oath-sign, is significant in Jamison’s book on the subject. His argument is worth citing at some length here. To begin with, he describes the biblical pattern of “ratifying” a covenant through the use of a “symbolic action,” and he also highlights its “constituting” function.[14] In Genesis 15, for example, the animal-cutting ceremony was a symbolic action which ratified God’s covenantal promises to Abraham. Similarly, circumcision was a covenant-ratifying sign of the Abrahamic covenant, and Jamieson argues that it not only signaled God’s pledge but also Abraham’s (and his descendants’) agreement to keep the terms. He calls the symbolic action, which ratifies and constitutes, an “oath-sign,” wherein “the covenant’s sanctions [were] placed… on those thereby consecrated to the Lord.”[15]

But, as Jamieson notes, “this raises the question… is [baptism] an oath?”[16] He answers, yes. And this is where his argument centers on the passage of greatest interest to us. Jamieson says, “to be baptized into the name of the Trine God is to be initiated into covenantal identification with him.”[17] This is is exactly what Matthew 28:19 calls for, and it is in keeping with Dagg’s older language and argument. Dagg writes, “The place which baptism holds in the commission, indicates its use. The apostles were sent to make disciples, and to teach them to observe all the Saviour’s [sic] commands; but an intermediate act is enjoined, [namely] the act of baptizing them.” Therefore, Dagg says, “This ceremony [i.e., baptism] was manifestly designed to be the initiation into the prescribed service; and every disciple… meets this duty at the entrance of his course.”[18] In other words, baptism is the way New Testament believers declare themselves Christian.

The New Testament teaching on this is point is clear. Baptism is an “appeal to God for a clear conscience;”[19] it publicly calls upon God to grant what He has promised in Christ. Baptism is “into Christ,” and those who are baptized “have put on Christ”[20] Baptism unites the believer to the “death” of Christ, even mysteriously “burying” the believer “with Him,” and also unites the believer to a “resurrection like” Christ’s.[21] Thus, repentance and faith are surely the first responses of the new believer when he or she hears and understands the gospel (at least in a logical and theological sense), but baptism is the initial visible response, whereby the believer is signaled to have converted from the “domain of darkness and transferred… to the kingdom of [God’s] beloved Son.”[22] Baptism is the way a new believer makes a public confession of faith in the Lord [i.e., King] Jesus Christ.

One final remark in this section will also lead us into the next. This covenantal identification in baptism is a pledge or oath from both directions – from the one baptized and from heaven itself. From the one baptized, the pledge or oath is to publicly commit oneself to Jesus Christ as Lord. It is a promise to “obey all that [Christ] commands” as His disciple.[23] From heaven, the pledge or oath is a formal and public answer to the request implicit in calling upon Christ as Savior. But how does the new disciple know that his or her plea for acceptance has been answered in the affirmative? Who actually makes the heavenly declaration, “This person is indeed a Christian”? The answer is the church.

These Christians Affirm This One

Baptism is the way new disciples become public or visible Christians, and baptism is also the way existing disciples affirm new ones. In fact, it is manifestly obvious that this second feature necessarily corresponds to the prior claim. The previous section dealt with the idea that baptism is the visible sign of conversion, but one cannot baptize himself. An existing Christian (usually an assembly of them) is a necessary and responsible participant in this Christ-instituted act.

In this section we must further consider baptism as part of the overall process of conversion in order to better understand the necessary role of existing Christians. In fact, building on the previous claim, we must continue with a necessary correlation. In making judgments about who is and who is not a Christian, existing Christians speak for Jesus in the authorized administration of the ordinances. But this requires an explanation which must reach further back into Matthew’s Gospel before we proceed.

Some theologians have observed that Matthew 28:18-20 is not only a foundational text for understanding baptism, but also a climactic one. Jonathan Leeman has argued that Jesus’s Great Commission is the zenith of the major theme in Matthew’s Gospel – the authorization of kingdom representatives to speak with the authority of King Jesus in the world.[24] Leeman, as John Cotton did before him, especially sees this theme hitting significant points along the way in Matthew 16:13-20 and 18:15-20.[25]

There is no room for a full exposition here, but Leeman argues that these two passages together speak positively[26] and negatively,[27] describing Jesus’s authorization for His disciples (specifically an assembly of them “gathered in [His] name”)[28] to make judgments regarding the “what” and the “who” of Christ’s kingdom in the world. In Matthew 16, Jesus’s disciples are authorized to speak positively, binding right confessors within the boundaries of Christ’s kingdom. In Matthew 18, they are authorized to speak negatively, loosing those who do not live in keeping with a right confession from the kingdom boundaries. Leeman says, “Jesus means to build his church not on persons or truths, but on persons (who) confessing the right truths (what) – on confessors.”[29]

So then, when he finally arrives at Matthew 28:18-20, Leeman understands that Christ is announcing that He does indeed possess all authority in heaven and on earth, and that His disciples are now to speak with His cosmic authority, which Christ has authorized them to do (in Matthew 16 and 18). Particularly, they are to exercise their “jurisdictional and legal, revelatory and interpretive speech” in the use of the ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s Supper.[30] Speaking particularly of baptism, Leeman says, “To baptize someone ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Matt. 28:19) is to make a truth claim about a person’s union with Christ and citizenship in Christ’s kingdom.”[31]This is the heavenly pledge, speaking in the name and with the authority of Jesus Christ, which corresponds with the believer’s pledge in baptism.

Baptism, then, according to Matthew 28:18-20 (full of pregnant meaning from Matthew 16:13-20 and 18:15-20), is the way a new disciple becomes a public or visible Christian, but only in so far as this one is affirmed by these existing Christians. Baptism is the initiatory oath-sign whereby individual believers become partakers in the visible kingdom of Jesus Christ, but only if the existing New Covenant community (i.e., the local church) authoritatively provides the heavenly affirmation through baptism. And, of course, this is exactly the way we see the earliest disciples practice baptism as they began to preach the gospel and bring new converts into churches (or forming them as such) throughout the book of Acts. 

From the hub of Matthew 28:18-20, these other baptism passages jut out as spokes of the doctrinal wheel. In Acts 2, Peter was the first disciple to bear public witness to Jesus Christ by preaching the gospel on the day of Pentecost. When some in the crowd responded by asking, “What shall we do?”, Peter said, “Repent and be baptized.”[32] And “those who received his word were baptized,” and there “were added” to the existing New Covenant community “about three thousand souls.”[33] 

In our next section we will consider further the direct link between baptism and church membership, but presently we can already see some consistent application of the authorization, the mandate, and the method described above. Peter preached the gospel, called for unbelievers to repent and believe, and urged those who believed to be baptized. The invisible realities (regeneration, repentance, and belief) were immediately visualized in the act of baptism, which gave a clear historical record of thousands of confessing converts in a single day.

It must be acknowledged that in Acts 2 there is no explicit mention of baptizing the existing disciples in order toaffirm them as new converts. A strong argument could be made, however, that such an affirmation is the necessary implication of baptism since Jesus’s commissioning statement (in Matthew 28) and His previous teaching and authorization (in Matthew 16 and 18) ought to be assumed even when such features are not explicit. This is not an argument from silence, but an argument of consistency; Jesus taught previously that this is what baptism is. But as the gospel expands, and as more people are converted, the text does become explicit in describing how the earliest disciples understood their responsibility and authorization to judge and affirm (by baptism) only those whom they believed were included among the New Covenant community.

In Acts 8 the responsibility of authorization is implied by the apostolic visit to Samaria from Jerusalem. After persecution intensified in Jerusalem, Philip traveled into Samaria, and he preached the “good news about the kingdom of God in the name of Jesus Christ.”[34] There were some who “paid attention” to Philip’s teaching, and they “believed” Philip’s message, thus, “they were baptized.”[35] In Samaria, Philip was the only existing disciple at first, so he alone was the one who affirmed these new Samarian converts by baptism. It is significant, however, that “when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John.”[36] This appears to reinforce the biblical understanding that Christian affirmation was an essential aspect of baptism, since the Christians in Jerusalem seem to have acted on their responsibility to investigate and participate in what is going on in Samaria. 

In Acts 10, the responsibility on the part of existing Christians to make judgments about who is in and who is out of the New Covenant by way of baptism becomes obvious. The Apostle Peter received special revelation from God that the gospel promises were not only for Jews but also Gentiles. By divine appointment, Peter preached the gospel to a gathered group of Gentiles whom God regenerated, as evidenced by their “speaking in tongues and extolling God.”[37]Peter’s next words are telling. He asked, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”[38] What are we to make of this question if not that Peter and his believing companions were acting on their perceived responsibility to judge the who and the what of the kingdom of Christ by either granting or withholding baptism? The clearest and most obvious understanding is that they were pronouncing their divinely-authorized judgment. These Christians (in this case Peter and those with him) were publicly affirming this one as a partaker in the visible kingdom of Jesus Christ by baptizing him (in this case Cornelius and those of his household). 

In summary, we have demonstrated in the first section that biblical baptism is the initiatory oath-sign whereby individual believers become partakers in the visible kingdom of Jesus Christ. We have demonstrated in this second section that both an individual confessor and an existing Christian (at least one) are necessary and responsible participants in this Christ-instituted act. In the next section, we will argue that Christ’s authorization to judge who is in and who is out of Christ’s visible kingdom is normally the prerogative of the local church. Indeed, baptism not only visibly unites new believers to Christ, but it also unites new believers with a visible assembly of existing ones.

This Christian is United with These

In our day, the assumptions of individualism and some sort of personal autonomy are pervasive. One is much more likely to think of their conversion as a personal and private act, rather than a communal one in any way dependent upon others. However, an overemphasis on the personal requirements of repentance, faith, and regeneration does violence to the biblical notion of conversion. Indeed, the invisible components of conversion are essential for one’s inclusion in the kingdom of Christ, but we live during the age when such a kingdom has not yet been fully displayed. In our age, the kingdom of Christ takes visible shape in the form of local churches, gathered in Christ’s name, marked off by the ordinances which the Lord Jesus authorized as the signs of covenantal citizenship. And, by definition, the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper can only be practiced in community.

Drawing together the various strands of teaching we have already considered, we must return to the hub of our wheel. In Christ’s commission, His ordaining or decreeing instruction for baptism, He commanded existing disciples to baptize new ones in the name of the Triune God. This command sets atop Christ’s teaching that the door in and out of His visible kingdom is operated by those who “gather” in His “name.”[39] The ones who make the good confession concerning Christ, as Peter did, are “bound” within the “kingdom of heaven.”[40] Those who live in keeping with the good confession remain visibly within the New Covenant community, the “brotherhood” of Christ’s kingdom or church.[41] But those who do not repent of sin and continue in belief are to be treated as “a Gentile and a tax collector.”[42] This is old covenant language which means that the unrepentant sinner is to be considered outside of or “loosed” from the covenant community.[43] All of this is not to say that local churches are authorized by Christ to make the decisive statement on one’s inclusion or exclusion from the New Covenant itself, but it is to say that Christ has authorized local churches to make the only sort of judgment that can be observed before that final day when Christ shall render His ultimate verdict.[44]

The direction we are headed now requires us to make a distinction between the invisible and visible kingdom of Christ, the universal Church and the local church. The kingdom of Jesus Christ shall one day become visible in the eschaton, the glorious age to come when God Himself will make all things new in Christ. We see this displayed in the “great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” singing the song of salvation.[45] Near the end of the book of Revelation, the Apostle John saw “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down our of heaven from God,”[46] and the “holy city” is the kingdom of Christ in which God will “dwell with” His people.[47] That eschatological kingdom of Christ – the assembly of all those who persevere in faith – is sure to come, but it is not yet visible.[48] What is visible now is the kingdom of Christ that shows up in the form of local churches, and baptism is the observable act which demonstrates who is numbered among Christ’s kingdom-citizens.

Stanton Norman has written, “Christian baptism is… only… [for] those persons whose allegiance belongs exclusively to Jesus Christ.”[49] In other words, those people who pledge allegiance to Christ above all else are baptized as an official pronouncement of their citizenship in Christ’s kingdom. Others have drawn upon the idea of an “embassy” to describe the local church on this conceptual basis.[50] And, since baptism is the way Christians initially affirm new believers, it serves as a sort of passport for citizens of Christ’s kingdom on earth. But without physical boundaries or geographical lines on a map, Christ’s kingdom is more like a foreign nation existing in the form of scattered outposts among the kingdoms or nations of this world.

Local churches act as embassies of Christ’s kingdom when they proclaim the message of their King, call present inhabitants of this world to pledge allegiance to Christ (i.e., repent and believe), and authoritatively declare a new citizenship (by baptism) to those who exhibit the fruit of regeneration. Baptism, then, is tantamount to membership in the visible kingdom of Christ; it is the door of church membership.[51] Shawn Wright observes, “baptism is the entrance marker of a converted person into the membership and accountability of a local church.”[52] From the nineteenth century, Edward Hiscox wrote, “[baptism] stands at the door [of church membership], and admission [into the church] is only on its reception.”[53] Indeed, Jonathan Watson shows the relationship between baptism and ecclesiology when he writes, “A local church administers baptism to persons as a means of making them disciples… Thus, the doctrine of the church – its fellowship and obedient mission in the world – is bound up with this rite as well.”[54]

Rustin Umstattd, a contemporary Baptist theologian, agrees with this point as far as it goes. He writes, “The baptism in the Great Commission was both a profession of faith by the one coming to Christ and recognition by the church that he was being accepted into Christ.”[55] But in the same article, in which he advocates against delaying baptism, Umstattd seems to overemphasize the profession to the detriment of the recognition. He says, “delayed baptism, for evidentiary purposes, causes the church to abandon (de facto, if not de jure) the concept of credobaptism, in favor of what one might call ‘certo-baptism,’ this latter idea being defined as the baptism of someone whose bona fides have been underwritten officially by a local church.”[56] However, one’s bona fides is precisely what a church is recognizing and underwriting by baptizing a new believer.[57] The one desirous of baptism may indeed be regenerate and believing, but the church is responsible to make a judgment regarding this very question.[58]

It is important to note here that Baptists make no claim of infallibility with regard to a local church’s decision to baptize a confessor into membership in Christ’s visible kingdom. Wright says, “When a church receives a person as a member, they are saying, ‘As far as we can tell, you are one of us. You have been born again. You are a pilgrim along with us on your way to heaven’” (emphasis added).[59] Donald Ackland makes it clear that Baptists today “can lay no claim to a full measure of apostolic discernment;” therefore, he says, “we should exercise every care in determining that those who seek the privilege of church membership possess the basic spiritual qualifications.”[60] Thus, baptism and church membership do not confer salvation, nor is baptism an affirmation that cannot err. And yet, Baptist churches do mean to include only regenerate confessors, those who presently pledge allegiance to Christ and demonstrate the sort of behavior that accompanies repentance and faith.[61]

In summary, we have attempted to show that baptism is the way new disciples become visible Christians, inherently joined with other visible Christians. It is not the only or even the “legitimizing” feature of conversion, but baptism the biblical way Christians make a public profession of faith and become partakers, along with other partakers, in the visible kingdom of Jesus Christ.[62] We have also argued that there is a necessary correlation between a public profession of faith and a public affirmation of that profession. Simply put, existing disciples must affirm new ones by way of baptism; no one baptizes himself, and baptism is intrinsically an affirmative judgment. And, finally, we have labored to explain the biblical, logical, and historical connection baptism has with church membership. Baptism is the initial way new disciples unite with others, and this normally occurs in the context of the local church.

Subjects and Context of Baptism

Having defined baptism, we should confront a common assumption that appears to pervade modern Christianity in America. Some church leaders and Christian authors do not seem to think there is any such thing as a disordered baptism, even less a false one.[63] All is fair game, and each believer should feel personal freedom in answering the questions of who should be baptized and how. Some emphasize an interest in maximizing the number of baptisms while avoiding altogether questions about propriety or fidelity to Scripture’s teaching on the subject. 

Kelly Bean, in her book How to Be a Christian Without Going to Church, describes what she calls “alternative forms of Christian community.” She calls them “non-goers,” those people, like her, who call themselves “Christian” and even “faithful,”[64] but who also purposefully avoid membership with any local church. She argues that this group is growing in number, and she thinks this is just part of the inevitable change that must always happen. When she finally does address the subject of the ordinances or sacraments, she says these can be easily adapted to various forms of uncommitted and untethered faith-communities. She says, “Sometimes non-goers will assemble with other non-goers in a small community to share in the sacraments of communion or baptism… Most non-goers understand themselves to be part of the priesthood of all believers and accept responsibility and authority for administration of the sacraments.”[65]Bean is representative of a large number of professing Christians who feel perfectly free to practice the ordinances in any way that seems right to them.

It is not just untethered Christians who feel this freedom. Some church leaders seem to believe the increased number of baptisms justifies any loss of biblical warrant for their practices. Elevation Church produced a “How-To Guide” for “Spontaneous Baptisms,” which called for other churches to follow the method and pattern they used.[66]They recorded between 13% and 18% of their audience followed in baptism at the “Spontaneous Baptism event” in 2008, and between 9% and 16% in 2011. “Volunteers played a vital role,” they said, and they called for “15 people [to] sit in the worship experience and be the first ones to move when Pastor gives the call.” Other volunteers are to be arranged in the hallways to “create an atmosphere of Celebration.” The key throughout the “How-To Guide” is speed and efficiency, a “smooth interaction” and avoiding any “slow down” in “traffic flow.” Those being baptized are encouraged to “tweet… that they are being baptized today,” and volunteers are “looking for 1 or 2 great stories” from among the people in their “group” awaiting baptism. And yet, there seems to be little time for any sort of pastoral inquiry. There is no information in the guide to call for screening some out of the throngs wanting to be baptized, and church membership is not mentioned either. It is not clear that these baptisms are connected in any way to membership at Elevation Church.

Professing Christians seeking alternative forms of community and church leaders calling for spontaneous baptisms both seem to be heading in the exact opposite direction of the meaning of baptism urged in this essay and exemplified in history. Shawn Wright provides a voice of reason when he says, “those who are to be baptized should be presented to the fellowship for its approval before the baptism. One of the responsibilities of a fellowship is to receive its members… It is therefore the congregation’s responsibility to hear the testimony of the one to be baptized so that they might then receive him into their membership in a meaningful way.”[67] Yes, this is the sort of practice in keeping with the meaning of baptism articulated above. The matter we are concerned with here is orderly baptism, as opposed to disordered baptism. 

Who, then, should be baptized? 

Only those people with a credible profession of faith should be recommended for baptism. A proper confessor is one who has heard and understood the gospel of Jesus Christ, who has understood the basic requirements of ongoing repentance and faith, and demonstrates at least some evidence of spiritual life. Because baptism is an affirmation that this one is a Christian, those Christians affirming such a thing must take some care to know – as best as they are able – if the one to be baptized is actually born again. Such a practice will usually necessitate some passage of time, since the Christians affirming a new believer will need to know something about the person to be baptized. Is she repenting of sin? Is he showing love for Christ and love for other Christians? Does she seem willing to pursue holiness alongside the Christians among this local church? All of these questions and more will need time to answer. Baptism is more than a profession of faith, though not less, and those Christians responsible for affirming such a profession must love potential converts enough to help them assess whether they possess saving faith.[68]

When should a professing believer be baptized? 

Since baptism is a public profession of faith in Jesus Christ, and since baptism is to be observed in the name of Jesus or in the name of the triune God, it is most appropriate to closely join the practice of baptism with the preaching or proclaiming of the gospel message. Furthermore, because baptism unites a new believer with existing ones, it would be most appropriate to baptize a new believer among the gathering of a local church. Since churches regularly gather on the Lord’s Day, baptism would be best observed in the context of a formal church liturgy. Having gathered in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the congregation has heard the gospel proclaimed, they have sung songs affirming the gospel, they have prayed prayers to the triune God, and they should now see the initiatory oath-sign of the gospel promises and requirements.

How should a professing believer be baptized? 

There is consensus among scholars today that the New Testament practice was baptism by immersion.[69] Moreover, the action of immersing a person in water clearly visualizes the ideas baptism is meant to convey – death of the old self with Christ, cleansing of sin, rising to live a new life in a new way. Thus, professing believers ought to be baptized in the name of the triune God by fully immersing them in water. There may be rare occasions when sufficient water is not available or other complicating factors that make full immersion highly difficult for a particular person, such as bodily ailments that should not be exposed to water. Immersion is the proper or orderly form of baptism, but it is not of the essence of the ordinance. However, every effort should be made to practice full immersion. Similarly, it is not essential for a pastor or elder to perform the baptism, but it is appropriate for such a one to do so, since a pastor or elder is publicly recognized as one who faithfully preaches and teachers the gospel among a particular congregation.

Conclusion

Baptists have historically believed that baptism is not essential for salvation, but they have never believed that baptism was a dispensable feature of Christian conversion. Indeed, Baptists are Baptists precisely because of their high view and applied practice of baptism. Baptists have sometimes spoken more harshly than necessary against those whom they believed practiced a kind of baptism that is not baptism (i.e., paedobaptism), but this is not the aim here. This essay has attempted to avoid belittling those who disagree, but instead to present a positive case for the consistent practice of believer’s baptism. The goal has been to argue for and explain the biblical meaning and practice of baptism, which, along with regeneration, repentance, and faith, is inseparable from Christian conversion. This ordinance is the initiatory oath-sign whereby the individual believer makes a public profession of faith and existing believers publicly affirm the one being baptized as a partaker in the visible kingdom of Jesus Christ, united with the Savior and also with His people in the world. Stein summarizes it by saying that during the earliest days of Christianity baptism was how the “individual receive[d] Christ,” it was “administered by the church,” and it was “through this experience [that] he or she [became] part of the body of believers.”[70]

Baptism, then, is the subjective display and application of God’s objective promises in the New Covenant. As such, believer’s baptism, as defined in this essay, is vitally important to every Christian and every local church because it best “preserves the pure witness of the gospel.”[71] May God grant that every true church will be a bold witness of the gospel of Christ, and may He also grant that we all seek to adorn the doctrine of the gospel with consistent practices in our churches.


Endnotes

[1] Gregg R. Allison, The Church: An Introduction, Short Studies in Systematic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021). 107.

[2] Bannerman argues, “there belongs to [baptism] the… character of a seal, confirming and attesting a federal transaction between God and the believer.” And “if Baptism be the seal of a federal transaction between the party baptized and Christ; if this be the main and characteristic feature of the ordinance… it would appear as if there were no small difficulty in the way of admitting to the participation of it those who, by reason of nonage, can be no parties to the engagement in virtue of their own act or will… the primary and ruling consideration in the controversy must be the express Divine appointment on the subject.” James Bannerman, The Church of Christ: A Treatise on the Nature, Powers, Ordinances, Discipline, and Government of the Christian Church, Franklin Classics, vol. 2, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: Murray and Gibbs, 1868). 49, 67.

[3] Hans Kung, representing a modern Roman Catholic view, says, “Baptism is… not only a condition but also a guarantee of being made a part of the [universal] Church.” Hans Küng, The Church, trans. Ray Ockenden and Ockenden, Rosaleen, Twelfth (New York, NY: Continuum, 2001). 210. And Miroslav Volf summarizes John D. Zizioulas’s teaching on this point, representing a leading Eastern Orthodox view, saying, “baptism makes the human being into a ‘catholic entity’; not only is that person incorporated into the church [i.e., “baptized… into a network of relationships”], he is also himself made into the church.” Miroslav Volf, After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity, Sacra Doctrina (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1998). 90.

[4] Bannerman argues, “The principle of representation found under the Old Testament is the very principle introduced by the Apostle [in 1 Corinthians 7:14] to explain the position and character of children in the case where no more than one parent is a believer and member of the Church… The Holiness of the one parent that is a member of the Christian Church, communicates relative holiness to the infant, so that the child also is fitted to be a member of the Church, and to be baptized.” James Bannerman, The Church of Christ: A Treatise on the Nature, Powers, Ordinances, Discipline, and Government of the Christian Church, Franklin Classics, vol. 2, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: Murray and Gibbs, 1868). 90.

[5] John P Sartelle, Infant Baptism: What Christian Parents Should Know (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1985). 8.

[6] John L. Dagg, Manual of Theology: A Treatise on Church Order, Second (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 2012). 13. John P Sartelle, Infant Baptism: What Christian Parents Should Know (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1985). 6.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016). Unless noted otherwise, all Scripture references are from the same.

[8] Acts 2:38, 3:19, 17:30, 26:20; Rom. 2:4; 2 Cor. 7:10; 2 Peter 3:9 (and many more).

[9] Acts 2:44, 4:4, 8:12, 10:43, 11:21, 13:48, 16:31; Rom. 1:16, 3:22, 10:9 (and many more).

[10] Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, eds., Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, NAC Studies in Bible & Theology (Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2006). 52.

[11] Bobby Jamieson, Going Public: Why Baptism Is Required for Church Membership (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2015). 40.

[12] Of course, repentance, belief, and regeneration are all evident in the life of a believer. This seems to be one of the main points of Galatians 5. But these are not immediately or objectively observed. 

[13] Jamieson, 40.

[14] Ibid, 64.

[15] Ibid, 64.

[16] Ibid, 64.

[17] Jamieson, 69.

[18] Dagg, 71.

[19] 1 Peter 3:21.

[20] Galatians 3:27.

[21] Romans 6:3-5.

[22] Colossians 1:13

[23] Matthew 28:20.

[24] Jonathan Leeman, Don’t Fire Your Church Members: The Case for Congregationalism (Nasville, TN: B&H Academic, 2016). 74-109.

[25] John Cotton, The Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven: And Power Thereof, According to the Word of God, ed. P. Joseph (Copppell, TX: Independent, 2021). Cotton does not explicitly connect Matthew 28 with chapters 16 and 18, but Cotton argues much as Leeman does regarding the “keys of the kingdom.” The “keys” refer to the authority of the local church to speak on Christ’s behalf in the matters of true Christian doctrine and true Christian converts. Cotton is a paedobaptist Congregationalist, and Leeman is a credobaptist congregationalist, but they both see a good bit of the same substance in Matthew 16 and 18.

[26] Matthew 16:13-20 speaks positively, demonstrating by Peter’s example what a good confession and a good confessor is. Peter received Jesus’s own blessing and affirmation, and then Jesus authorized all future judgments to “bind” or include right confessors with right confessions within the New Covenant community (i.e., the earthly kingdom of Christ).

[27] Matthew 18:15-20 speaks negatively, demonstrating what the church is authorized to do with an unnamed “brother” who “sins” without repentance. Jesus authorized all future judgments that would expel or “loose” any unrepentant sinner from the New Covenant community (i.e., the earthly kingdom of Christ).

[28] Matthew 18:20.

[29] Leeman, Don’t Fire Your Church Members. 75.

[30] Ibid, 81.

[31] Ibid, 81.

[32] Acts 2:37-38.

[33] Acts 2:41.

[34] Acts 8:12.

[35] Acts 8:11-12.

[36] Acts 8:14.

[37] Acts 10:46.

[38] Acts 10:47.

[39] Matthew 18:20.

[40] Matthew 16:19.

[41] Matthew 18:15.

[42] Matthew 18:17.

[43] Matthew 18:18.

[44] Revelation 20:11-15, 21:7-8.

[45] Revelation 7:9-10.

[46] Revelation 21:1-2.

[47] Revelation 21:3; see also the expanded description in verses 9-21 of a “city” with a “great wall” which likely matches the distance of the entire Hellenistic empire in the first century.

[48] See the repeated use of the word “conquer” throughout Revelation (2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21, etc.), meaning “persevere” or “keep” faith in Christ (Rev. 2:26), and the specific promise in Revelation 21:7, “The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”

[49] R. Stanton Norman, The Baptist Way: Distinctives of a Baptist Church (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005). 134.

[50] Jamieson, 88. and Jonathan Leeman, “The Church: Universal and Local,” TGC: U.S. Edition (blog), accessed July 2, 2022, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/essay/the-church-universal-and-local/.

[51] Norman does not seem to know of any “Christian group” that does not “perceive baptism as the initiatory rite into church membership.” R. Stanton Norman, The Baptist Way: Distinctives of a Baptist Church (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005). 134. There are known historical exceptions, however, including the Quakers and the Salvation Army, each holding idiosyncratic views on baptism. It may also be noteworthy that the modern development of non-denominational churches (which are often disconnected from historic Christian doctrine), the recent practice of spontaneous baptisms, and the increase of ecclesiastically isolated para-church ministries (which sometimes take it upon themselves to practice a strange and untethered form of the ordinances) have all begun to dissociate baptism and church membership (in practice, if not in theological argumentation). 

[52] Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman, eds., Baptist Foundations: Church Government for an Anti-Institutional Age (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2015). 124.

[53] Edward T. Hiscox, The New Directory for Baptist Churches (Coppell, TX: SolidChristianBooks.com, 2022). 83.

[54] Jonathan Watson, “The Ongoing ‘Use’ of Baptism: A Hole in the Baptist (Systematic) Baptistry?,” Southwestern Journal of Theology61, Fall 2018, 9-10.

[55] Rustin Umstattd, “Credo v. Certo Baptism: How Delaying Baptism May Change Its Meaning from Profession of Faith to Evidence of Sanctification,” Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry, Spring 2018, 6.

[56] Ibid, 4.

[57] Robert Matz avoids this responsibility of the congregation entirely in his argument concerning the cognitive abilities of children. His focus is on the understanding of the child, but he does not address a congregation’s responsibility to observe apparent evidence of regeneration. He says, “cognitive developmental studies do not provide justification for restricting baptism from children… Children who can independently reason about faith, repentance, the Christian gospel and conversion and who can explain how such concepts apply to themselves personally should be affirmed as converts and baptized.” Robert Matz, “The Cognitive Abilities of Children and Southern Baptist Baptismal Restrictions,” Southwestern Journal of Theology 61, no. 1 (Fall 2018): 43–61. 60-61.

[58] See Klopfer’s emphasis on the intrinsically social nature of baptism. Specifically, she says, “The idea that baptism, like salvation, is personal needs careful clarification and reflection in order to be helpful to Baptists of the twenty-first century. Personal here does not mean private of privatized, words that are often used interchangeably. Personal is not the individual conscience or isolated ego, demanding that it be baptized as a rugged individualist in defiance of all family, church, and societal traditions.” Sheila Klopfer, “From Personal Salvation to Personal Baptism: The Shaping Influence of Evangelical Theology on Baptism,” Baptist History and Heritage, Summer/Fall 2010, 76.

[59] Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman, eds., Baptist Foundations. 126.

[60] Donald F. Ackland, Joy in Church Membership (Nashville, TN: Convention Press, 1955). 14.

[61] This is, in fact, a Baptist distinctive known as regenerate church membership. Historically, this conviction not only affects the way Baptists have practiced baptism, but also the way they have practiced the Lord’s Supper and church discipline.

[62] Robert Stein observed “that it is the gift of the Spirit that legitimizes the experience of baptism, not vice versa.” Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, eds., Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, NAC Studies in Bible & Theology (Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2006). 45.

[63] The terms disordered and false each qualify the term baptism. A disordered baptism is true Christian baptism, but it has occurred in such a way so as to distance itself more or less from accurately communicating the meaning of baptism outlined in this essay. A false baptism in one or more ways neglects or denies in its practice the essential features of Christian baptism.

[64] Kelly Bean, How to Be a Christian Without Going to Church: The Unofficial Guide to Alternative Forms of Christian Community(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2014). 10.

[65] Bean, 166.

[66] “Spontaneous Baptisms How-To Guide” (Elevation Church, August 2011).

[67] Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman, eds., Baptist Foundations. 125-126.

[68] Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 1:10; James 2:14-17.

[69] Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, eds., Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, NAC Studies in Bible & Theology (Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2006). 81.

[70] Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, eds., Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, NAC Studies in Bible & Theology (Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2006). 63.

[71] Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, eds., Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, NAC Studies in Bible & Theology (Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2006). 3.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Ackland, Donald F. Joy in Church Membership. Nashville, TN: Convention Press, 1955.

Allison, Gregg R. The Church: An Introduction. Short Studies in Systematic Theology. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021.

Bannerman, James. The Church of Christ: A Treatise on the Nature, Powers, Ordinances, Discipline, and Government of the Christian Church. Franklin Classics. Vol. 1. 2 vols. Edinburgh: Murray and Gibbs, 1868.

———. The Church of Christ: A Treatise on the Nature, Powers, Ordinances, Discipline, and Government of the Christian Church. Franklin Classics. Vol. 2. 2 vols. Edinburgh: Murray and Gibbs, 1868.

Bean, Kelly. How to Be a Christian Without Going to Church: The Unofficial Guide to Alternative Forms of Christian Community. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014.

Cotton, John. The Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven: And Power Thereof, According to the Word of God. Edited by P. Joseph. Copppell, TX: Independent, 2021.

Dagg, John L. Manual of Theology: A Treatise on Church Order. Second. Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 2012.

Dever, Mark, and Jonathan Leeman, eds. Baptist Foundations: Church Government for an Anti-Institutional Age. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2015. 

Duesing, Jason G. “The Church.” In Historical Theology For the Church, 231–74. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2021.

Hiscox, Edward T. The New Directory for Baptist Churches. Coppell, TX: Independent, 2022.

Jamieson, Bobby. Going Public: Why Baptism Is Required for Church Membership. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2015.

Keach, Benjamin. The Glory of a True Church. Kindle. Pensacola, FL: Chapel Library, 2018.

Klopfer, Sheila. “From Personal Salvation to Personal Baptism: The Shaping Influence of Evangelical Theology on Baptism.” Baptist History and Heritage, no. Summer/Fall 2010: 65–79.

Leeman, Jonathan. Don’t Fire Your Church Members: The Case for Congregationalism. Nasville, TN: B&H Academic, 2016.

———. “The Church: Universal and Local.” TGC: U.S. Edition (blog). Accessed July 2, 2022. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/essay/the-church-universal-and-local/.

Matz, Robert. “The Cognitive Abilities of Children and Southern Baptist Baptismal Restrictions.” Southwestern Journal of Theology, Fall 2018: 43–61.

Norman, R. Stanton. The Baptist Way: Distinctives of a Baptist Church. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005.

Sartelle, John P. Infant Baptism: What Christian Parents Should Know. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1985.

Schreiner, Thomas R., and Matthew R. Crawford. The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ Until He Comes. NAC Studies in Bible & Theology. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2010.

Schreiner, Thomas R., and Shawn D. Wright, eds. Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ. NAC Studies in Bible & Theology. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2006.

“Spontaneous Baptisms How-To Guide.” Elevation Church, August 2011.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016.

Umstattd, Rustin. “Credo v. Certo Baptism: How Delaying Baptism May Change Its Meaning from Profession of Faith to Evidence of Sanctification.” Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry, Spring 2018: 3–14.

Volf, Miroslav. After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity. Sacra Doctrina. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1998.

Watson, Jonathan. “The Ongoing ‘Use’ of Baptism: A Hole in the Baptist (Systematic) Baptistry?” Southwestern Journal of Theology, Fall 2018: 3–27.

Witherow, Thomas. I Will Build My Church: Selected Writings on Church Polity, Baptism, and the Sabbath. Edited by Jonathan Gibson. Glenside, PA: Westminster Seminary Press, 2021.

Isn’t Everyone a bit gender dysphoric?

When I was in Jr. high school, I was given a creative writing assignment. Generally, I don’t remember much about my childhood or teen years, so it’s a big deal (for me) that I remember this. My teacher asked her students to write about an individual with great personal significance. I could choose anyone I wanted, but it had to be someone of upmost importance to me. My mother was very disappointed that I opted to write about my football coach: Coach Seibert.

My mother and father divorced when I was too young to remember, but the consequences of their divorce continued long after their decision. As a little guy, I longed for adult male interaction and affirmation, but my father (during those years) was mostly absent. I loved him, and I wanted him near, but he was gone.

Coach Seibert, on the other hand, I saw almost every day for two years. I spent at least a couple of hours each day under his supervision. Not only did I see him every day; he instructed me, he rebuked to me when I messed up, he affirmed me when I performed well, and he demanded more from me than I thought I could give. Because that man had expectations for me, I began to have expectations for myself.

Though I hadn’t kept up with him for years, I was truly saddened to learn that Coach Seibert died recently because he had a huge impact on me. He made no distinctive effort to treat me differently than anyone else (at least none that I know of), but he was a man who taught me about what it is to be a man. He called me a man, and he demanded that I live up to it. He instilled in me much of what I experientially understand masculinity to be. I am grateful to God for the gift of Coach Seibert in my life.

Boys do not effortlessly become men; and the same is true for girls becoming women. Sure, we get older, and we are eventually able to legally drive, vote, and buy alcohol; but these are not what makes a man a man, or a woman a woman. Masculinity and Femininity are not rooted in the mere progression of time or even life experience. For example, one should not argue that a boy becomes a man simply because he kills an animal, rebuilds a jalopy, or gives away his virginity. These life experiences do not magically create a man, and no life experience will spontaneously produce a woman either.

What, then, is manhood or womanhood? This question is controversial in our day for multiple reasons, but at the outset we must be prepared to confront the reality that terms like “man” and “woman” are themselves controversial. In this essay, we shall explore the ultimate cause of gender confusion and look to the Bible for answers to some of the most important and applicable questions we will ask in our lifetimes.

What is a man?

What is a woman?

How shall we live as Christ-following men and women in a culture that finds the gender binary almost as offensive as the exclusivity of the gospel message itself?

Dysphoria is the modern mood regarding gender.

Gender Dysphoria” is probably a new phrase to most of us. In fact, it’s a new phrase for all of us, if you consider when it was actually first used to describe “Gender Identity Disorder.” The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which was published in 2013 by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), changed the previous label “Gender Identity Disorder” to the current label “Gender Dysphoria.”

While the APA still lists Gender Dysphoria as a psychiatric condition that warrants treatment, and keeps it listed among many other “disorders,” the change of label was motivated by a desire to remove the “stigma”of it. In a fact sheet, released before the 2013 edition of the DSM, the APA explained that mental health researchers wanted to “remove the connotation that the patient is ‘disordered.’”[1]

How a patient can have a “disorder” without him or herself being “disordered” is difficult for me to understand, but in our hyper-sensitive culture, I am repeatedly amazed by the lengths to which many people will go to try to deny the obvious.

And yet, I think the label “Gender Dysphoria” captures the mood quite well. “Dysphoria” is a feeling of “unease and dissatisfaction,” and placing the word “Gender” with the word “Dysphoria” accurately (in my opinion) identifies the issue. Indeed, this matter is a question of “feeling,” and not a question of “being.” It is true that a person may feel as though they are something or someone other than what or who they are. It is absolutely ludicrous, however, to suggest that a person may successfully deny reality without severe consequences. Of course, many sexual and political revolutionaries would have us believe otherwise, but there is great confusion even among themselves.

As a matter of fact, confusion (it seems to me) is the overarching theme of this sexual revolution we are experiencing. There is an all-out assault on the “gender binary” (the concept of two distinct genders – male and female), and the antagonists are arguing for “gender fluidity” (the concept of relativism applied to gender roles, characteristics, and even ontology). However, the death of the gender binary is not life-giving for anyone. It is ushering in total chaos.

For example, many have proclaimed the absolute indistinguishability between males and females. “Boys and girls are the same,” they say, “so they should be treated exactly the same.” But then someone will argue that a boy should be treated like a girl if he feels that he is actually a girl.

This is confusing… Is there any difference between boys and girls, or isn’t there? If there is not, then who cares what little Johnny wears to school or what pronoun “he” …or “she” …or “ze” wants to claim today? If there is no difference, then it makes no difference. If, on the other hand, there is a difference between girls and boys, then wouldn’t we be responsible adults by encouraging little Johnny towards masculine development (regardless of his feelings)?

Another example of the modern gender confusion is in the area of sports. Just a few years ago, the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) of college sports moved the location of some championship football games so that they would not be played in North Carolina. This move was a direct attempt to penalize North Carolinians for their position on something that has commonly become known as “the bathroom issue.” The state of North Carolina passed a bill (House Bill 2) that prevented government and public facilities from being forced to accommodate the bathroom preferences of transgendered individuals. Basically, the bill required people to use the bathroom and changing facilities which correspond with their biological sex (male or female).

ACC officials said this is undue discrimination, but isn’t this just a bit hypocritical? I mean, as far as I know, there are zero female football players in the ACC. As a matter of fact, the ACC even makes biological females and biological males play in different categories for every sport listed under the ACC. The ACC website segregates “Men’s Sports” from “Women’s Sports” without a single exception.[2] Basketball, tennis, soccer, lacrosse, rowing and several others are all listed in gender-specific categories. Isn’t this the same kind of discrimination on the part of the ACC? Aren’t they being narrow-minded and bigoted by keeping the gender binary in place with such distinctions? One can hardly imagine how the ACC could be consistent if they truly believed that the gender binary should be replaced with gender fluidity.

Confusion abounds in American culture today. With the sexual revolution, the established sexual rules (whether moral or immoral) have been completely uprooted and tossed into a massive bonfire. There are some remnants that remain, but the sexual revolutionaries are aggressively collecting and burning everything that once stood in the way of sexual autonomy.

This is the way a sinful mind tries to solve the problem of dysfunction. Male-Female relationships are indeed dysfunctional across numerous measurements, and this dysfunction is harmful to everyone. Males and females alike are not living according to their intended design, and this creates all sorts of frustrations. People become frustrated with themselves, frustrated with others, frustrated with a broken system, and frustrated by failed solutions.

So, if “dysphoria” means unease and dissatisfaction, then I’m arguing that more than just transgendered people experience “Gender Dysphoria.” A whole lot of people today are dissatisfied by our failure to live in harmony and according to our God-designed gender.

The question we must address now is: “Where did this gender dysfunction come from?”

Gender dysfunction is a result of “the Fall.”

First, I do not want to take for granted that everyone will understand what I mean by “the Fall” or by referring to the subsequent “Curse of Sin.” Let’s look to a particular passage of the Bible (and also at its context in the book of Genesis) in order to better comprehend what these phrases mean.

In Genesis 1 and 2, we read about God’s creative intentionality and power. In all of creation, and especially in humanity, God displays His glory and majesty. All things find their origin in God’s design, and all things flourish when they abide under God’s good authority. But, in Genesis 3, we read about human disobedience; and we discover that there are profound consequences resulting from our first parents’ first sin.

Genesis 3:1–19 (ESV)

3 Now the serpent was more craftythan any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”

2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and themanand hiswifehid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

9 But the LORD God called to the manand said to him, “Where are you?”

10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”

11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”

12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”

13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

14 The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

16 To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

17 And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

“The Fall”refers to that scene in Genesis 3, cited above, when Adam and Eve “fell” from their status of obedient subjects to the rank of usurping rebels. The “serpent” (who is the devil [Revelation 12:9, 20:2]) tempted Adam and Eve with autonomy (self-rule or self-government). He told them that they could be the ones to know and to decide for themselves between right and wrong (Genesis 3:5).

The devil’s accusation was that God was withholding something from them, and they bought into the lie. The Scripture tells us that the woman saw the forbidden fruit as “desirable” and a “delight to the eyes” (Genesis 3:6); and once she indulged, she also “gave some to her husband,” who was passively abandoning his responsibility to “keep” the garden that the Lord had given him (Genesis 2:15).

This “Fall” was immediately devastating. They showed their unwillingness to obey God’s authority, even with in the slightest regulation; and as soon as they disobeyed, they were guilt-stricken (Genesis 3:7). Their shame drove them into hiding. They were “fallen” indeed.

“The Curse of Sin” refers to God’s response to this human act of devastating disobedience. It is God’s “giving up” of humanity to all sorts of corrupting things (Romans 1:24, 26, 28). God had warned Adam to abstain from a single tree amidst a garden of pleasurable foliage (Genesis 2:17). Upon threat of death, Adam rejected God’s warning, and then God defined what He meant when He told Adam, “dying, you shall die” (môt tāmût). God came to Adam and Eve, and He confronted both their sin and their desire to hide from the consequences (Genesis 3:8-13).

God unleashed His righteous judgment upon all creation; He cursed everyone and everything (Genesis 3:16-19). The extent of God’s curse (its far-reaching ramifications) can only be understood in greater depth as the Genesis narrative unfolds. After God’s words of condemnation and cursing, there is evidence throughout Genesis that the curse was incredibly damaging.

Beginning with Genesis 4, we read of murder, polygamy, barbaric violence, and that is before we even get to chapter 5. In Genesis 5, we read the repetitive phrase “and he died,” which rhetorically hammers home the new reality of death in God’s created world. In Genesis 6, we are confronted by God’s dreadful declaration that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). This wicked evil brought destruction upon the whole earth, and God rescued only 8 persons from His deluge of judgment.

John MacArthur says, “Genesis also records the beginnings of such evils as homosexuality (Genesis 19:1-5); incest (Genesis 19:30-38); idolatry (Genesis 31:30-35); rape (Genesis 34:1-2); mass murder (Genesis 34:25-29); harlotry (Genesis 38:14-19); and numerous other forms of wickedness.”

Genesis (and really all of Scripture) shows the reader that the Curse of Sin is crushing and comprehensive.

Thanks be to God that His curse upon humanity and all of creation came only after He promised a redeeming Savior who would come to rescue fallen humans (Genesis 3:15)! If it were not for this gracious promise, and God’s work to fulfill it, then there would be no reason to hope for any escape from the “Curse of Sin.”

Looking back at Genesis 3, God’s specific words in the Curse (and the persons to whom He spoke them) are important for our discussion here. From Genesis chapter 3 (especially verse 16) we can learn much about why we experience gender dysfunction in this dysphoric life under the Curse of Sin.

Quickly, before I explain what the Bible says about gender dysfunction, as a result of the Fall, I want to make it clear that I am not saying, gender distinction is a part of the Curse of Sin.

Boys and girls are of equal value, because all humans are created in the image of God. Equally, males and females are image-bearers in God’s created world. Each gender is to uniquely reflect the character and nature of God in ways that nothing else in all of creation can.

Furthermore, gender distinction is also a feature of God’s good design. God created Adam as distinctly male, and God created Eve as distinctly female. The distinctiveness of maleness and femaleness is poetically and methodically on display in Genesis 2. This foundational chapter of the Bible is the constant reference point for all of the biblical authors when they address the subject of male-female relationship.

I will try to tackle our major questions at hand (“What is a man?” and “What is a woman?”) in just a bit, but let me be clear in saying that gender distinction is not a result of the fall, and it is not part of the curse of sin. Once again, gender distinction is a major aspect of God’s good design.

Having briefly explained the Fall and the Curse of Sin, and having quickly mentioned the goodness of gender distinction, let me now get into what I meant when I said “gender dysfunction is a result of the Fall.” I am saying that the Bible explains why we experience gender dysfunction in this life, and the Bible makes direct reference to male-female dysfunctionality in God’s Curse upon humanity.

Let’s take a closer look at God’s words in Genesis 3.

In verse 16, God spoke to the woman. He said, “I will surely multiply your painin childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.” This “pain” and reference to “childbearing” is a direct curse upon the woman’s natural part in fulfilling God’s commission, which is to be “fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28).

It is also significant that God promised that the woman’s “offspring” would be the serpent-crushing rescuer (Genesis 3:15). God’s triumph is precisely at the point of human defeat, and God’s power is demonstrated in human weakness.

God continues His curse in verse 16 by telling the woman, “Your desire shall be for your husband…” (Genesis 3:16). Now, the translation here can be a bit misleading. When we think of someone having “desire for” someone else, we probably think of something positive. A wife desiring her husband is not a bad thing; it is actually very good. But that is not the way verse 16 is speaking. The “desire” the woman has is actually against her husband, in that her desire or longing or craving is to rule over him.

The word used for “desire” here is the same word God uses for “desire” when He told Cain to resist the sinful urge he had against God and against his own brother, Abel. God said that “sin’s desire is for [Cain],” but God told Cain that he must rule over his sin, rather than allow his sin rule over him (Genesis 4:7).

Therefore, in Genesis 3, we are to understand that God is telling the woman that she will want to rule over or dominate her husband. This is the direct opposite of her created design; she was created as a “helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18, 20), not a competitor for his unique responsibility and authority.

And yet, the woman is not the only one with sinful desires, the man also became corrupted. Reading still further into verse 16, we see the fullness of dysfunction take shape. God said, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Gen. 3:16). The word used for “rule” here connotes domineering lordship. Here we see that the man’s leadership will now be a perverted role. He shall not lead his wife well, nor shall he lead to her benefit. His “rule” over her is not naturally one of loving or gracious authority, but one of tyranny and neglect.

Of course, we have seen this play out in human history, haven’t we? Have you ever heard the phrase “patriarchal society?” In any history or sociology class, you will learn about the common social practices of a male-dominated and sin-saturated world. In history, and still today, females are often treated with shameful disrespect.

Today in Afghanistan, for instance, 6 out of 10 girls never begin an educational path of any kind. Only 5% of Afghan girls attend school past the 6th grade. Half of all Afghan girls are married by age 12, and their husbands are often much older men. One could hardly argue that the marriage is voluntary, since they are arranged by their father and their husband-to-be. In Afghanistan, women are not allowed to appear in public, and a female can only go out with a full covering and a male escort. The legal options for women are nearly non-existent, because the testimony of a female is ½ that of a male in legal disputes.[3]

This appalling treatment of girls and women is truly shameful, but it is also not unusual at all in the history of humanity. From Genesis 3 onward, females have generally been dominated by males. Exceptions to this rule only serve to prove the rule, because they stand out as peculiar among the norm.

Just think about various ways this still occurs in contemporary American culture. Females are often made into objects, and they are paraded about as eye-candy. Domestic violence is still quite pervasive, and men often act abusively towards women. Sex-trafficking statistics are very difficult to measure accurately, but awareness is growing for this heinous and pervasive crime as well. These degrading realities are true right here around us.

As we survey the ill-treatment of women at the hands of men, we should mourn over such a thing. Our hearts should break that women are often used and abused, rather than encouraged and appreciated. The curse of sin has caused much pain indeed.

The gender dysfunction we see, both on the part of females wanting to leave their God-designed role and on the part of males wanting to do the same, is a result of the Fall. Where we observe a woman who wants to prove that she can be just like a man, where we notice a man abdicating his responsibility, where we detect competition between the sexes in regards to their pursuit of power over each other; in all of this, we witness the curse of sin.

It is important to note that a major aspect of the transgender issue of our day is a technologically advanced way of doing what many sinful people have been doing for a very long time. If a man does not want to live as a male, then he is rejecting God’s design for him and the role which God has commissioned him to fill in life. This is not new.

What is new is the technological ability we have today to artificially prop up that same man’s sinful desire to reject his God-designed gender. Quite frankly, this seems to me to be the height of hatred for one’s fellowman (pardon the pun). I cannot think of any other area of life where anyone would believe it to be loving to affirm someone’s utterly foolish and obviously erroneous denial of objective reality.

In short, the reason for gender dysfunction is sin. Because we live in a fallen world, we will regularly encounter emotional confusion, psychological disorders, and relational strife. Because of the curse of sin, ideal manhood and womanhood is flipped upside-down. Men and women will both seek to function outside of their intended designs. Some men and some women will even seek to reassign themselves an alternate gender entirely. Though our disobedience may vary, to whatever degree we leave our God-designed role behind, we provide first-hand evidence of God’s curse upon humanity in Genesis 3.

What shall we believe, and how shall we live?

So far, I have argued that “dysphoria” is a pretty good way to describe life under the curse of sin, and I have tried to demonstrate from Genesis 3 that dysfunction is the reason for that feeling of dysphoria. I have also tried to describe how the Bible explains the reason for the dysfunction we experience in this life. Hopefully, I have done a sufficient job up to this point, but my responsibility is not fulfilled in merely pointing out our current status and our errors.

What good have we received if we only better understand our curse?

What hope is there for anyone who has not lived up to their God-designed gender?

What benefit have we gained if we only feel the guilt of our failures and sense the probability of our continued dysfunction?

Well, I’d like to make four assertions as a way to offer hope and a path forward.

First, we may believe the gospel.

As I mentioned earlier, God promised to save guilty sinners by way of a “serpent-crushing” “offspring” (Genesis 3:15). The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ is the one who was “born of woman” and the Son of God (Galatians 4:4). He was the fulfillment of what God had promised throughout the Old Testament (Luke 24:27).

Jesus lived perfectly, exhibited unimpeachable obedience, and then died under God’s wrath in order to take the place of all those who would trust in Him (Romans 3:21-26). This same Jesus who died was resurrected to life, and He demonstrated that He alone can rescue guilty sinners.

Therefore, Christ has borne the full weight of God’s curse upon Himself in order to set us free from the curse. Not only may we avoid God’s wrath for our sin, we may also begin to walk in newness of life right here and right now (Romans 6:4). By the power of God’s Spirit, He makes us new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). God not only calls us to live as godly men and women, He empowers us to do so (Ephesians 2:10).

May God help us to believe the gospel of Christ and embrace the freedom He provides for us there. May God help us to abandon our sinful desires for our own way and our own glory, and may God glorify Himself as He grows us in holiness.

Second, we may affirm godly manhood.

Affirming godly manhood requires that we understand how God defines such a thing. We must not fall into the trap of thinking that masculinity is measured by physical prowess, facial hair, meat consumption, vehicular horsepower, or any number of other superficial stereotypes.

According to the Scriptures, manhood is distinctly summarized as godly leadership. Allow me to quickly defend and argue for this definition.

Adam was created first (Genesis 2:7). The Apostle Paul says that this ordering (male-then-female) conveys something about the way in which males and females image the glory of God (1 Corinthians 11:7-8).

Man “named” woman, and this was an act of divinely delegated authority (Genesis 2:23). In the Genesis account, think about how God named the “day” (Gen. 1:4), “night” (1:4), “earth” (1:10), “seas” (1:10), and “heavens” (1:8); but man named the “livestock,” “birds,” “beasts” (Genesis 2:19-20), and “woman” (Genesis 2:23).

Furthermore, the Apostle Paul says the male is to lead from a heart of love and with expressions of love in the marriage relationship (Ephesians 5:25-27). To say anything in the way of defining manhood without including man’s responsibility to lead, love, and serve would be to allow every man to believe that God has left him room for sinful truancy or tyranny.

If we are honest, men are inclined towards either living as absentee men who float from one relationship to another, or oppressive dictators who force others to submit to our rule. Often, men exhibit both of these tendencies in some horrific mixture. Neither truancy nor tyranny are expressions of godly manhood.

May God help us to honor and affirm what godly manhood really is.

Third, we may affirm godly womanhood.

As with manhood, we must also seek to understand how God defines womanhood. Regardless of societal expectations or personal experiences, we will find our greatest joy is knowing and following God’s design for us. We must avoid childish stereotypes for womanhood as well, and we must put away any notions of equality that do not allow for distinction.

According to the Scriptures, womanhood might be distinctly summarized as godly companionship. Once again, let us consider the biblical realities.

As was stated above, the order of creation is not just a purposeless detail in the storyline of Genesis 2. One must admit the incredibly careful word-choices, structure, imagery, and rhythm of Genesis 1 & 2. God said, “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18). Let us feel the significance and beauty of such a complementary design here.

God affirms the supportive role for which He is going to create this new companion by calling her a “helper.” God affirms the equal dignity and value of the helper by saying she will be “fit” or corresponding to the man. God affirms the complementary relationship of the man and the woman by saying that she is “for” him.

The Apostle Paul says the female is to submit to her own husband, in the marriage relationship, as the church submits to Christ (Ephesians 5:22-24). Paul also roots female submission to male authority in the home in the creation account of Genesis 1 & 2, thereby eliminating the possibility of claiming that this was only a cultural norm (1 Corinthians 11:9-10). This is not to say that all women are to submit to all men, but it is to say that each wife is to submit to and enjoy the leadership of her own husband.

To say anything in the way of defining godly womanhood without including God’s design for godly companionship and the specific charge to willingly place herself under the leadership of her husband would be to allow for sinful subversion or obstinacy. Women, just like men, are inclined towards acting contrary to God’s good design.

May God help us all honor and affirm what godly womanhood really is.

Fourth, we may live as witnesses of the gospel in our confused age.

The Church of Jesus Christ is always called to live according to truth and provide clarity in the midst of a world that is hostile to both. The system of this fallen world is not accepting to such things as I have celebrated and affirmed in this essay. I have said more than just a few things that will get me into big trouble with many in our culture today.

But we must always remember what makes the Church of Jesus Christ so powerful… It is not our ability to be like the world; it is our ability to live differently and joyfully than the world.

Make no mistake: those who live contrary to God’s design will face the consequences of brokenness, guilt, shame, and frustration. They will live a dysphoric life (in all sorts of arenas) under the curse of sin. Of course, it may not always appear that way on the outside, but sin always leads to pain and death in the end.

In the midst of our confused and broken world, we have a grand opportunity and a high calling. So often we feel a longing to do something great, but here is the greatness offered to everyday Christians: simply strive to live a God-honoring life according to His design and under His authority (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). We can live as a testimony to God’s gracious grace and edifying wisdom by simply following Him in the ordinary and unexciting matters of life.

In fact, it is precisely in doing this that we may best be witnesses to the person and work of Christ. Kathy Keller spoke of this when she wrote,

“Jesus is the reason you can trust that God’s justice is behind your assigned gender role, whether you are a man who would rather not take leadership or assume risk, or a woman who wishes she could. Both get to play the Jesus role.

It takes both men and women, living out their gender roles in the safety of home and church, to reveal to the world the fullness of the person of Jesus.

The glory of gender roles, for me, is that everyone gets to reveal an aspect of Jesus’ life. Jesus in his servant authority, dying in order to bring his bride to spotless purity (Ephesians 5: 22– 33), has redefined authority and has demanded that his followers do the same (Matthew 23: 11; John 13: 13– 17). Jesus in his submissive servanthood, taking on the role of a servant in order to secure our salvation (Philippians 2: 5– 11), shows that his submission to the Father was a gift, not something compelled from him.”[4]

So, we may all (male and female alike) exhibit the characteristics of Christ in our relationships with one another. We may honor God by living in glad submission to His good design, and we may show a watching world that there are still at least some of us who are not confused at all about what God would have us believe and how God would have us live.

May God graciously help us to do it.

Endnotes

[1]http://www.dsm5.org/documents/gender%20dysphoria%20fact%20sheet.pdf

[2]http://www.theacc.com

[3]http://www.trustineducation.org/resources/life-as-an-afghan-woman/

[4]Keller, Kathy; (2012-12-25). Jesus, Justice, and Gender Roles: A Case for Gender Roles in Ministry (Fresh Perspectives on Women in Ministry) (Kindle Locations 456-466). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Please clarify “Critical Race Theory” further.

I am the senior pastor of a rural evangelical church in East Texas. I have friends in Texas and also far beyond, and one of my good friends said that Bradley Mason’s recent article on Critical Race Theory (CRT) is “the most helpful summary of CRT to point Christians to when considering the issues and ideas today.” Well, I am a Christian who is considering the issues and ideas, and I read Mason’s article…. and, I’m still a bit unsure about what exactly CRT is asserting.

I also assume (which sometimes doesn’t work out) that the questions I have about Mason’s summary of CRT are probably not merely my own. It seems to me very likely that others would share my desire for greater clarity. It also seems to me that brief reciprocal volleys on social media are better at creating heat than light. So, to the end that Bradley Mason might read my long-form questions and respond to them, I think such a response might help folks like me understand a bit better.

Here’s to hoping for a charitable public dialogue and greater clarity as a result.

I will arrange my questions according to the format of Mason’s summary of the 11 “tenets” or “commonplaces” of CRT.

  1. Under the heading “Race is Socially Constructed,” Mason said, “race and racial categories were historically created to justify and maintain social hierarchy, slavery, and other forms of group-based exploitation…”
    • When was “race” or “racial categories” consciously created? Who did this? How can we know that such a thing was done for the purpose (partly or primarily) to “justify” or “maintain social hierarchy”?
    • If “race” was/is a “created” social construct, then how does CRT distinguish “race” from other social differences (such as gender, class, or national citizenship)?
  2. Under the heading “Differential Racialization,” Mason said, “Race, as an historically contingent artifact, was constructed to serve different social needs for differing social purposes at different times and in different places throughout history.”
    • My first question compounds here. Now I’d like Mason to help me know when “race” or “racial categories” were consciously created “at different times and in different places.” I recognize variations, but I am not ready to adopt the notion that these variations were consciously created instead of naturally occurring phenomenon amid cultural and societal interactions.
    • Does CRT view differential racialization as always, sometimes, or never morally bad/wrong?
  3. Under the heading “Intersectionality,” Mason said, “race is inextricably linked with other social constructions and/or social arrangements… [such as] class, gender, [and] sexuality” among other things.
    • How does CRT define “race”? And, according to CRT, how is “race” distinct from some other social construct or arrangement, like class or ethnicity or nationality?
  4. Under the heading “Racism is Endemic to American Life,” Mason said, “race was historically constructed by, in tandem with, and as integral to other central formative American systems and institutions…”
    • Does CRT claim that race was consciously “constructed by” Americans? If so, when and how was it “constructed” as opposed to adopted or transformed from the racial constructs already in existence at that time?
    • Are the “racial hierarchies and ideologies… integral to American life” uniquely bad in the world? Is CRT arguing that the racialized experience of all Americans is particularly worse than that of citizens of other countries?
  5. Under the heading “CRT is Skeptical of Claims to Neutrality, Objectivity, Color-Blindness, and Meritocracy,” Mason said, “CRT judges decision procedures by their remedial effectiveness in addressing the subordinated circumstances of people of color…”
    • What is CRT’s standard for judging the “remedial effectiveness” of any “decision procedure”?
    • How does CRT’s standard for evaluating the “effectiveness in addressing the subordinated circumstances of people of color” account for the agency, responsibility, or volition of “people of color”?
  6. Under the heading “Racism is a Structural Phenomenon and Explains Current Maldistributions,” Mason said, “racism is primarily a problem of historically racialized systems—created for the distribution of social, political, and economic goods—continuing to perform as created…”
    • Does CRT claim that all “maldistributions” are explainable by racist structures?
    • Again, as in my second question above, how does CRT account for the agency, responsibility, or volition of “people of color” with regard to any individual person of color’s social, political, or economic status? Does CRT assert that people of color have no personal agency, responsibility, or volition in such areas?
  7. Under the heading “CRT is Discontent with Liberalism and the Standard Racial Progress Narrative,” Mason said that CRT scholars do not want to “allow ‘enlightenment’ to run its natural course.” He said they “view such liberal… remedies as a means of preserving the status quo…”
    • What means do CRT theorists and adherents advocate for instead?
    • What probably costs might there be to such alternative means, and how might those have a more negative impact on the whole society (including both majority and minority “races”)?
  8. Under the heading “Interest Convergence,” Mason said, “racial progress is often ephemeral, and always prioritized in contrast with the rest of the traditional liberal program—i.e., individual freedom, freedom of association, free markets, vested interests, property rights, etc.”
    • How does CRT define “racial progress”?
    • What value does CRT place on the concepts of individual freedom, freedom of association, and property rights? And does CRT believe such concepts to be inherently at odds with “racial progress”?
  9. Under the heading “Unique Voice of Color Thesis,” Mason said, “Those who have been, and continue to be, marginalized through social identification with historically constructed groups are thereby uniquely placed to address their unique social, legal, political, and economic subordination.”
    • What does Mason mean by “address” here? Does CRT claim that only “marginalized” groups are able to offer and/or critique solutions to the social, legal, political, or economic problems specific to their group?
    • According to CRT, how does a social or economic “subordination” differ (if at all) from a social or economic disparity?
  10. Under the heading “CRT Aspires to be Interdisciplinary and Eclectic,” Mason said, “CRT seeks to incorporate a wide range of traditions and disciplines in order to address the various and sundry ways racialization is embedded throughout society.”
    • Does CRT aim to construct a completely non-racialized society?
    • Does CRT desire a racialized society of some sort that practices or experiences racialization better than the present practices or experiences in America?
  11. Under the heading “CRT is Both Theory and Praxis,” Mason said, “In the end, CRT seeks not only to understand race and racial subordination, but to change the subordinated circumstances of marginalized peoples.”
    • Does CRT seek to merely subordinate and/or marginalize different groups or races than those it presently perceives as subordinated and/or marginalized?
    • Or does CRT seek to “redistribute social power” such that no group or race is marginalized or subordinated?

If you’ve read this far, then I appreciate the time and thought you’ve given. I trust that my questions will be perceived as sincere, with the true goal of understanding. Maybe the questions I’ve asked here are already helping me and you both arrive at greater clarity, but I think further exchange might be even more helpful.

I genuinely want to know what Critical Race Theory is so that I might evaluate the system of thought more carefully. May God help me.

Celebrating the Protestant Reformation by Highlighting the Doctrine of Justification

On October 31, 1517, a German monk, named Martin Luther, posted a document for academic debate on what was effectively the local bulletin board, the castle-church door. Luther probably wanted a discussion and debate with other professors and theologians over a matter of theological concern.

Luther was only 33 years old at the time, but he was a Roman Catholic priest, a Doctor of Theology, and a professor at the university in Wittenberg. He saw himself, in that moment, as a faithful servant of the Church of Rome. But Luther had heard about a Dominican friar named Johann Tetzel, who was selling indulgences to people all over the Roman empire.

Indulgences, which are still part of Roman Catholic teaching and practice today, [1] are official letters from the Roman Church which absolve a person of some or all of their sin based a faith-infused act of some kind. Tetzel’s indulgences, authorized by the Roman Pope, were effectively absolution for sins for a financial donation. Tetzel’s jingle was, “When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.”

In 1517, Luther knew more theology than many, and he believed that indulgences were antithetical to any biblical understanding of repentance or forgiveness. So, Luther wrote 95 statements of dispute against indulgences – the document we know today as “Luther’s 95 Theses.”[2]

Some of his students translated Luther’s original document from Latin to German, and they also used the newly invented printing press to make lots of copies. Before Luther knew it, he had become the spearhead and voice of many discontents with Rome. In response, Luther also became the target of Rome’s fury, and he was the kind of man who usually added fuel to the fire.

On April 17, 1521 (not quite 4 years after he had nailed the 95 theses to the church door and probably about 2 years after he had trusted in Christ alone as Savior[3]), Luther was standing in a room with the Roman Emperor – Charles V – and several high representatives of the Roman Catholic Church. Copies of Luther’s books and tracts were piled on a desk in front of him and the full authority of the church and of the state was bearing down on him. The one question Rome asked was, “Will you recant (or retract and apologize)?”

Luther was forced to make a brief response. So, he said,

“I am bound by the Scriptures… and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen.”[4]

Everyone, including Luther, expected that he would be burned at the stake. But in God’s providence, Luther was spared a martyr’s death. He lived another 3 decades, in which he translated the Bible from the original Greek and Hebrew to German, he wrote many more books and tracts, and he pastored and taught with a keen focus on the cross and the justifying work of Jesus Christ.

In one sense, Luther was a giant among the reformers. His voice echoed throughout the western world, and it continues to do so today. My own church still sings songs Luther wrote, and I still quote him in my sermons and teaching. But, in another sense, Luther was just one reformer among many.

Zwingli and Bullinger were notable reformers in Switzerland, and, in England, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley both lived and died for their Protestantism. These two, Latimer and Ridley, were burned at the stake together in Oxford, England on October 15, 1555. As the wood was being stacked around their legs, Latimer (now famously) said, “Be of good comfort, Mr. Ridley, and play the man! We shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace, in England, as I trust never shall be put out.” And so, they did. The flame consumed them, but the gospel-fire spread wildly.

John Calvin was a French reformer who spent most of his time writing and preaching in Geneva. Calvin was nearly the opposite of Luther, a studious introvert and not the bombastic life-of-the-party. Calvin spent most of his life suffering from some chronic illness or another, but Calvin also had a precise mind and a profound ability to speak and write with clarity.

Every Christian is indebted to Calvin for his incredible work of systematic theology, a multi-volume set we know today as “Calvin’s Institutes.” He first published the text in 1536 as a “Basic instruction in the Christian Religion.” It was 6 chapters and about 200 pages long by today’s formatting. Calvin published the final version of that work in 1559, which has 80 chapters and about 1,600 pages, but Calvin still called it a “Basic instruction…”

Calvin’s preaching, which is available today in manuscript form, and his commentaries are both quality sources of deep intellectual study as well as practical/pastoral instruction. And, I believe, the Christian who throws Calvin out because of a distorted view of some truncated version of Calvin’s doctrine will inevitably suffer loss for it.

Each of these reformers, and many others like them, protested the common teaching and practice of the 16th century Roman Catholic Church. But what was it exactly that they were protesting? And should Protestants still protest today?

On the one hand, Protestants and Roman Catholics, both then and now, have a great deal in common. We believe the same things about God as trinity, about Jesus as both God and man, and about the value of human life, which is grounded in the fact that all humans were-and-are created in the image of God.

But, on the other hand, Evangelical Protestants (including Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Anglicans, and even non-denominationalists) have been and continue to be at odds with Rome on some very important issues. During the time of the Protestant Reformation, we can see at least two major disagreements, which still remain today: 

One, on the doctrine of justification… “How are guilty sinners justified before God?” And two, on the place of ultimate authority… “Who has the authority to answer this question, or any other on faith and practice, definitively?”

In this essay, I will (like a good Protestant) argue from the position that the Bible is our highest authority. But the authority of Scripture is not my main focus here, so I will just have to assume that point for now. For the interested reader, I’ve written on that subject elsewhere.[5]

Primarily, I’ll focus here on the question of how sinners can be justified. And I’ll argue that justification is by faith alone in Jesus Christ. I will make my case from the Bible and then I’ll urge us to believe this gospel, as opposed to any other, by clarifying the biblical position in contrast to others – both old and new.

If you’re reading this essay with your Bible beside you, then turn now to Romans 3, and let’s try to understand the biblical answer to our desperate question: “How are guilty sinners justified before a holy God?”

THESIS

God justifies sinners through the work of Jesus Christ, and unjustified sinners should expect God’s justice; therefore, let us receive God’s righteousness by faith.

1.  GOD JUSTIFIES SINNERS THROUGH THE WORK OF JESUS CHRIST

Romans 3:9-28 is a small portion of an entire letter written by the Apostle Paul to the Christians in Rome during the first century. Though the “Roman Catholic Church” would grow to mean something far different in time, the “church in Rome” then was simply the united body of Christian believers who lived in Rome.

Paul’s letter to these Christians was and is a masterful treatise on the gospel. As a matter of fact, this letter was one of the books of the Bible which Martin Luther taught through at the seminary in Wittenberg. But he didn’t always enjoy the book of Romans as a marvelous display of God’s grace and love.

Luther initially had some trouble with chapter 1, verse 17, which says, “In it [that is, in the gospel] the righteousness [or justice] of God is revealed…” Luther said of this verse,

“I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle [or letter] to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, ‘the justice [or righteousness] of God,’ because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing [sinners]… My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my [good work] would [satisfy] him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him.”[6]

Luther understood that sinners are guilty before God, and Luther knew God’s righteousness demands justice. And that’s where the gospel message begins for all of us… with bad news, and not good.

In Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians, he had begun his description of the gospel by talking about the unrighteous foolishness of all sinners, who naturally reject God’s truth and choose lies and sin instead (Romans 1:18-32). The Jewish Christians might have been tempted to think that they were better off than everyone else, since they had received God’s special revelation of His law… or, as Paul calls it in chapter 3, verse 2, “the oracles of God.”

Remember, up until that point in human history, God had only revealed His law to one people-group – the descendants of Abraham. But that revelation was not sufficient to solve the problem of sin for anyone – Jew or Gentile. And that’s where I’ll pick it up in chapter 3, verse 9.

Paul asked, “What then? Are we Jews any better off?” And his answer was, “No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin…” The Scripture says, everyone is “under” sin… both those who know God’s law and those who haven’t received any special revelation of it. But, what does it mean to be “under” sin? 

Well, verses 10-18 describe it for us. Drawing from multiple Old Testament passages, Paul lays out a diagnosis of natural humanity – that is fallen, unregenerate, and unbelieving humanity.

Romans 3:10-18 says, “10 as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, noteven one.’ 13 ‘Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.’ ‘The venom of asps is under their lips.’ 14 ‘Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.’ 15 ‘Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.’ 18 ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.’”

This is terrible news! The Bible tells us clearly that no human being is naturally “righteous” (v10), no one “seeks for God” (v11), no one “does good” (v12), and no one has any “fear of God” (v18). Friend, this is a diagnosis of you and me. Neither of us naturally seeks for God; neither of us naturally does what is right; and neither of us naturally has any genuine fear or reverence for God.

Why in the world, then, should God be favorable toward us?!

The short and honest answer is, He should not be! 

But it gets worse. Even the benefit of God’s law is no help to sinners like us. Look at verse 19 and following. The Bible says, “19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:19–20).

What does the Bible say God’s law does to us when it shows up in our lives? It “stops” our “mouths” and it shows us our “accountability” or “liability” or “guilt” before God. The law is no help to us, not because the law is bad, but because we are.

Do you feel the weight of what Luther was wrestling with when he thought the gospel revealed only “the justice” or the “wrath” of God? What does God’s “righteousness” or “justice” mean for sinners like us?

If God’s gospel only reveals the justice by which God judges sinners, then the gospel mocks us in our despair and misery by giving us wretched news. It only condemns us more profoundly.

But Luther kept on reading and he kept on thinking this through. He said,

“Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that ‘the just shall live by faith’ (Romans 1:17). Then I grasped that the justice of God is thatrighteousness by which… through grace and sheer mercy… God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise…”[7]

What did Luther understand that brought such a change? I think he understood the heart of the gospel, which we find in Romans 3, verses 21-26. The Bible says, “21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”

Friend, we see here the beginning of the good news. There is a sense in which God gives righteousness, through Jesus Christ, to those who believe. But how can this be? How can God, who is righteous and just, grant or give righteousness to dirty rotten sinners like us?

Look at the end of verse 22. It says, “For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”

Friend, here we come right to the blazing core of the Christian gospel. The question we’re after is: “How are guilty sinners justified before a holy God?” Or, to put it the other way around, “How can God’s justice against sinners be satisfied without punishing sinners?”

The answer we see in Romans 3:22-25 is that God satisfied His own wrath by “putting forward” His own Son (Jesus Christ) as a “propitiation” …or as J. I. Packer put it, Jesus was put forward as a “wrath-quencher.”[8]

I don’t think it’s important that you be able to pronounce the word (propitiation), but your soul depends on you being able to understand the meaning of it. Propitiation is the act of appeasing or satisfying someone. In this case, the furious party is God, and the object of His wrath is the sinner (disobedient people like us). And the propitiating act was the work of Christ upon the cross.

We know Jesus offered propitiation at the cross because it was “by his blood” (v25). And we know that it was this substitutionary sacrifice that brought about “justification” because“justification” is what this whole passage is about. Those sinners who are condemned by their sin in verse 23 are “justified” by God’s grace “through” Christ’s “propitiatory” death in verses 24-25. And verse 26 continues the same thought. “It,” i.e. the propitiating work of Christ, “was to show his [God’s] righteousness at the present time, so that he [God] might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

Only in the wrath-quenching death of Jesus, who died as a substitute for all those who repent (turn from sin) and believe (trust in Him), can God be both the just God who judges sin and the justifying God who saves or justifies sinners.

Only in the person and work of Jesus Christ is God’s righteousness displayed, both in the punishment of some sinners and in the reward of righteousness, which God gives to other sinners through Jesus Christ.

But is this reward of righteousness something that any sinner earns or deserves? NO! It is a “gift” that comes to sinners by or because of God’s “grace” (v24). And, now, Paul’s question in verse 27 is appropriate: “Then what becomes of our boasting?” And what does he say? “It is excluded. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law”

You bet it’s excluded! What boasting can you do if all you contribute to your justification before God is your sin?! How can you boast if all you’ve done is passively put your faith in God’s gracious gift?!

God accomplished it all! God effectively, actually, and irrevocably saves sinners!

God alone and sovereignly makes sinners righteous. He justifies them through the death of His own Son, Jesus Christ, who was put forward by the Father as a “propitiation” at the cross. This is why our hearts may rejoice as we sing: 

How deep the Father’s love for us… How vast beyond all measure…                    

That He should give His only Son… To make a wretch His treasure, 

Why should I gain from His reward… I cannot give an answer…                                  

But this I know with all my heart… His wounds have paid my ransom.

But what does this doctrine of justification by faith or trust in what God has done in Jesus mean for those sinners who do not trust in or have faith in Jesus?

2.  UNJUSTIFIED SINNERS SHOULD EXPECT GOD’S JUSTICE

This will be a relatively short point, but it’s one worth making. And it will probably be the second-most offensive point I’ll make in this essay.

If you look to verses 25-26 of our passage, you’ll read an interesting couple of lines. The Scripture says, “This [and This is referring to Christ’s propitiating work on the cross] was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It [i.e. Jesus’ propitiation, His sacrificial death] was to show his [God’s] righteousness at the present time…”

Friend, the Bible never asks, “How could a loving God send someone to hell?” The Bible, unlike self-centered rebels like us, is far more interested in God’s glory than it is in man’s comfort or in our foolish presumptions about fairness.

In verses 25 and 26, the Bible is telling us that God’s own righteousness might have been in question if He hadn’t displayed His wrath in the work of Jesus Christ. The underlying question here is: If God is a perfect judge who always delivers impartial justice, then where is it?! Sinners seem to be walking around freely right now, and God has even promised to let some sinners escape His justice!

Ah, the Bible says, God hasn’t let His waves of justice roll just yet, but there is no question that God will pour out His wrath on all sinners everywhere. We know this because we can see God’s commitment to justice in the cross of Jesus Christ. Do you think God will spare any of us if He did not spare His own Son?  

Friend, do not presume upon the riches of God’s kindness and patience!

Don’t you know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

You should turn away from your sin and cling tightly to Jesus. You should plead with God to blot out your transgressions with the blood of His own Son, so that you may be spared from God’s unrelenting wrath, which is surely coming.

God will show no pity in the day of judgment. Look what He has done to His beloved Son in order to save those sinners who are recipients of His grace!

The Bible says that if you do not repent and cling to Jesus then you are “storing up wrath for yourself” which will be poured out “on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:5).

Unbelieving and unrepentant sinners should expect nothing but God’s justice.

3.  GOD’S RIGHTEOUSNESS IS RECEIVED BY FAITH ALONE

With this point, which will probably be the most offensive one to some readers, I’m going to contrast the biblical gospel with other versions of the gospel, which are not really any gospel at all. My purpose here is not to be divisive or mean just for the sake of meanness. But, rather, my purpose is to hold up the true gospel, right next to some other ideas that try to pass themselves off as the gospel, so that we will know better how to tell the difference. 

Remember our primary question. We’re asking, “How are guilty sinners justified before a holy God?” I’ve answered this question already by pointing us to Romans 3, and by arguing from the Bible that God makes sinners righteous. He justifies them through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ, who was put forward by the Father as a “propitiation” at the cross.

But how does any sinner receive this gracious gift of righteousness? In real time and in the experience of our real lives, how do we move from being an object of God’s wrath to being an object of His grace and mercy? 

Well, from God’s perspective, the matter is already settled. From before the foundation of the world, He has loved and chosen a people for His name’s sake. And the Father sent the Son into the world in order to die as the substitute for those He came to save (or to justify). And God’s Spirit perfectly applies the work of Christ to all those the Father has loved and chosen.[9]

Praise God for such a marvelous salvation! He has decided it. He has planned it. And He will complete it perfectly… all the way through to the end!

But, from our perspective, the matter is still unfolding. We don’t come into this world knowing and believing the gospel of Christ. We are not naturally loving and serving our good King. Rather, we begin as guilty and rebellious sinners.

How, then, do sinners like us trade our unrighteousness for the righteousness of God in Christ? Or, to put it another way, what must we do to be saved (or justified) before God?

It will probably be helpful if I add a little clarifying note with regard to the precise language I’m using when I say “justified.” The Bible speaks of “salvation” as something that has happened, something that is happening, and something that will happen.

The Christian has been saved, is being saved, and will be saved. But this is a way of using the same word to mean slightly different things.

What we really mean when we speak this way is: The Christian has been regenerated, justified, and adopted into the family of God. The Christian is being sanctified, renewed, and spiritually matured. And the Christian will be glorified, resurrected, and made perfect in Jesus Christ.

So, to speak of “justification” is to refer to a precise aspect of the overall work and experience of Christian salvation. But justification is a critical piece of the puzzle. In fact, Martin Luther said,

“The article of justification is the master and prince, the lord, the ruler, and the judge over all kinds of doctrines; it preserves and governs all church doctrine and raises up our conscience before God. Without this article the world is utter death and darkness.”[10]

Indeed, to get justification wrong is to lose the gospel altogether. To get justification wrong is to lose salvation and to lose even the whole Christian church. So, let’s dig just a little deeper into justification here.

In the 16th century, and still today, the Roman Catholic Church taught and teaches that a sinner actively participates in his or her justification by (at minimum) observing the sacraments of the Church, of which baptism is primary.[11] In other words, justification is not only an act of God, but it is also an activity in which the sinner plays an “instrumental” role, namely the sinner contributes to the “process” of his or her justification by performing religious duties.[12]

In fact, Rome has formally condemned anyone who teaches or believes the view that justification is something only God does through Christ, which is to be received only by simple faith.[13] Simply put, Rome has officially declared eternal damnation on anyone who teaches or believes the doctrine of justification as I have explained it above.

But Rome is not the only church to teach a gospel of justification by faith plus religious obedience. Historically consistent Churches of Christ teach the same. For example, Graceton Church of Christ (located near me) affirms that baptism is “an act which is essential to salvation.”[14]  Very much like official Roman Catholicism, Churches of Christ seem to mix together faith in the Lord Jesus with other religious activities which Christians are commanded to do as a result of their faith in Jesus.

But the Bible doesn’t teach justification by faith plus anything!

The Bible teaches us that God justifies by His grace through the work of Jesus Christ. Justification is not something we do. It’s not something we can do! We don’t contribute to our justification in any way. We are passive recipients of God’s gracious and effective work, which provides perfect righteousness for us.

This is marvelous good news for sinners like us, because it means that we have a truly effective savior. Jesus didn’t just make salvation possible for sinners like us; He truly and actually died in our place. And in so doing, He quenched God’s wrath against us and made us righteous in God’s sight. We must simply believe or trust that this is true.

At 3:00 AM on February 18, 1546, Martin Luther was dying, and his friend asked him, “Reverend father, will you die steadfast in Christ and the doctrines you have preached?” Luther simply responded, “Yes.”

May God help us too, to have no guilt in life and no fear in death. May God help us all to stand in the love, in the sacrifice, and in the power of Jesus Christ.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Luther, Martin. The Large Catechism. Translated by F. Bente and W.H.T. Dan. Published in: Triglot Concordia: The Symbolical Books of the Ev. Lutheran Church. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921. http://www.projectwittenberg.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/wittenberg-boc.html

Packer, J. I., and Dever, Mark. In My Place Condemned He Stood. Crossway, 2007.

Rafferty, Oliver. P. Catholic Views of Justification. In P. R. Eddy, J. K. Beilby, & S. E. Enderlein (Eds.),Justification: Five Views. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011.

Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal. Catechism of the Catholic Church. Crown Publishing Group, First Image Books edition, 1995.

Sproul, R. C. Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification. Baker Books, 1995.

Waterworth, J. Ed. and trans. The Council of Trent. The canons and decrees of the sacred and oecumenical Council of Trent. London: Dolman, 1848. Scanned by Hanover College students in 1995.

ENDNOTES


[1] See the official Vatican authorization of indulgences as recently as March 20 of 2020. https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2020/03/20/pope-francis-authorizes-plenary-indulgences-and-general-absolution-coronavirus

[2] See Luther’s 95 theses: https://marcminter.com/2017/03/30/martin-luthers-95-theses/  

[3] See this article on Luther’s conversion: https://www.ligonier.org/blog/story-martin-luthers-conversion/

[4] Quote from: Reeves, Michael. The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation (p. 15). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition

[5] Here’s a popular level article I wrote on the subject: https://marcminter.com/2017/05/10/christians-dont-need-the-bible/ and here’s a more academic article on the same: https://marcminter.com/2018/11/01/sufficiency-of-scripture/

[6] Sproul, 56-57.

[7] Sproul, 57.

[8] Packer, 23.

[9] See all of this laid out in Ephesians 1:3-14; Romans 8:27-39; 2 Timothy 1:8-12; and elsewhere.

[10] Sproul, 67.

[11] Rafferty, 280. See also chapter 7 of the sixth session of the Council of Trent, which says, “Of this Justification the causes are these: the final cause indeed is the glory of God and of Jesus Christ, and life everlasting; while the efficient cause is a merciful God who washes and sanctifies gratuitously, signing, and anointing with the holy Spirit of promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance; but the meritorious cause is His most beloved only- begotten, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, when we were enemies, for the exceeding charity wherewith he loved us, merited Justification for us by His most holy Passion on the wood of the cross, and made satisfaction for us unto God the Father; the instrumental cause is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which (faith) no man was ever justified; lastly, the alone formal cause is the justice of God, not that whereby He Himself is just, but that whereby He maketh us just…”

[12] Rafferty, 278-280.

[13] See Waterworth, session 6, especially canons 9, 12, 24, and 30.

[14] See full content at http://www.churches-of-christ.net/tracts/job041u.htm

Prepare to Preach

So, you’re scheduled to preach… huh?

Whether you are a seasoned preacher or a novice who is only just starting out, you are probably glad to hear how other preachers prepare for the task. As a matter of fact, a preacher spends far more time on preparation than he does on preaching, and yet preparation is the part the job which very few people actually see. So many preachers have fewer tools in the belt than they’d like as they start to build their sermon.

To the interested reader, a few good books will give you more than this article. I recommend Preach by Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert. This book will provide an over the shoulder look at how two different preachers think about preaching and how they each prepare to do it. I also recommend Getting the Message by Daniel Doriani. This book will help the preacher with some basic mechanics for interpreting and applying the Bible faithfully.

The content below is my own list of tips and helps, which I give to any preacher in my own church. When I invite a church member to preach for the first time or when i want to encourage an experienced preacher to hone his craft, I send the substance below. In other words, this is the stuff I use in real life as a preacher and as a pastor of other preachers. May it be a help to you in some way.

Prepare Yourself

As you begin to prepare, you’ll want to keep some general thoughts in mind.

In one sense, preaching is nothing special. You aren’t firing a rocket to the moon. You’re simply reading a text from the Bible, interpreting that text, and then seeking to explain it and apply it in generally helpful ways.

Take comfort, my friend. Your effort to faithfully perform this simple (i.e. uncomplicated) task is likely going to honor Christ and edify His people!

In another sense, preaching is totally unique. A preacher stands between God and the world, and he has the audacity to say, “Thus says the LORD God of the universe…” A preacher stands ahead of a congregation and aims to do great good to all of them by feeding their eternal souls with the living and active words of God.

Take notice, my friend. God Himself will judge you for what you say and do in the pulpit.

Lastly, remember that God is delighted to bless faithful preachers. The time and effort you give to preparation and to the delivery of your sermon will likely be a great blessing to you and to those who hear you. Just try your best to be faithful to Scripture. Aim to persuade the unconverted, to motivate the lethargic, to comfort the downcast, to rebuke the rebellious, and to strengthen the weak. In humility, pray that God will help you… and trust that He will.

Now, on to the mechanics of preparing.

Basic Steps

First, familiarize yourself with the context of your passage.

Try to understand the basic idea of the book and the context of the verse or verses. Read the whole book in which your verse is found (in one sitting if you can). Most books of the Bible can be read in less than 30 mins, and those that take longer are usually narratives, which can be broken into smaller portions according to the storyline. Psalms and Leviticus are exemplary exceptions, but books like these can also be broken into productive chunks.

If you can read the whole book multiple times (like once every day for a week or two), then you will notice great gains in your familiarity with the flow and content of the book. This will help you keep from pulling your particular preaching passage out of context later. You’ll also want to read your specific passage many times over. I recommend reading it aloud as well, and you may benefit from having someone else read it out loud to you (audio tech tools can be a help here).

Pray through your passage, asking God to grant what He commands there or praising God for what He reveals about Himself there. I regularly find myself praying, “God, help me believe this!” or “God, help me trust You for this!” or “God, help me do this!” Prayer will be helpful throughout your preparation, and remember that God intends for us to depend upon Him for illumination and insight.

Outlining your passage is another exercise to familiarize yourself with it. You might outline the whole book (like Titus or Colossians) or you might just outline the immediate Scripture context (like the storyline centered upon Joseph in the book of Genesis or the storyline focused on Jesus and the woman at the well in John’s Gospel).

However broad your outline reaches, you want to zero in on an outline for your passage. This outline for your preaching text is often called an exegetical outline. Try to create an outline on your own, without using someone else’s notes. If you’ve never done this before, or if you want to check yourself after you’ve done it, then you can usually find an outline of each book of the Bible in a study Bible or a commentary. In a study Bible, it’s almost always at the beginning of the book, where other introductory notes can be found as well.

The second step in preparation is collecting your thoughts.

Write or type them out. Don’t worry about organizing them yet, and don’t worry about having too much. Just put down everything that comes to mind.

  • What does God reveal about Himself here?
  • Is a major Christian doctrine addressed here?
  • What does God reveal about humanity here?
  • Is this passage primarily an imperative (command) or an indicative (a description of what is true)?
  • How does the indicative of this passage lead into or undergird the imperative?
  • What is the main point or theme or idea of this passage?

Write down personal questions or comments too.

  • What do you personally find confusing here?
  • Is there some odd word or concept you don’t quite understand?
  • What sticks out as especially profound or powerful?
  • Is there anything about this passage you’d like to study further when you have the time later on?

Whatever personal thoughts or questions you have about your passage, these may give you insight to the kinds of confusion or interest your listeners might have when you preach through it. In the end, you’ll have to decide what content to keep and what to leave on the cutting room floor, but everyone will benefit from the time you give to diving into your passage as deeply as possible within the time-frame you have available.

Third, you should organize your thoughts.

Arrange your thoughts in a sermon outline (often called a homiletical outline), such as the one below. Most preachers have a set time window, and I find it helpful to generally allocate space to each major point or section based on the time I want to spend there. An even distribution might be: 5 minutes on an introduction, 10 minutes on each major point, and 5 minutes on a conclusion.

Preparing an introduction may give you the chance to sharpen your focus at the outset of creating your outline, but I often write my introduction after I’ve completed most or all of my outline (sometimes even after I’ve written most of my sermon’s content). I am regularly not clear about how to concisely introduce my theme or emphasis until I’ve gotten pretty far into my sermon outline.

Whenever you choose to create your introduction, the body of your message is where you’ll spend most of your time. I find the traditional 3-point-sermon to be a faithful friend. I have sometimes strayed, using many more or even less, but 3 points regularly work just fine for building out the message I want to communicate. Here is one way you might structure your points:

  • Background/Scene/Context – Help the congregation understand the basic idea of the book and the context of the verse. 
    • Who is the author?
    • Who is the audience?
    • What is the author’s purpose? 
    • What is the occasion?
    • How does this relate to our own circumstances?
    • How should our own perspective or posture be calibrated by this information?
  • Explain/Interpret the Passage – Help the congregation understand what the passage is actually saying.
    • What did this mean when the author wrote it?
    • What themes or doctrines or commands do we see in the verse?
    • How might you summarize the truth-claims or the commands in modern language?
  • Application – Help the congregation understand what they should do and/or what they should believe because of what you have explained.
    • What should a non-Christian do with this verse?
    • What should a middle-aged mom do with it?
    • What should a retired couple do with it? 
    • A weak or hurting Christian?
    • A proud or indifferent Christian?
    • What should the church as a whole do or change by way of application?
    • How should church members adjust their practice of hospitality or their discipling efforts or their financial giving?

Fourth, decide what you’re going to bring with you to the pulpit.

Once you have your thoughts organized, you may want to write out a full manuscript of what you intend to say when you preach. Even if you don’t plan to preach from a full manuscript, the exercise of writing the whole thing out will probably help you be far more focused in your preaching than you might otherwise be.

There are various arguments among preachers about what you should bring with you to the pulpit. Should you preach from a full manuscript? Should you bring detailed or limited notes? Should you bring nothing at all? The short answer is: do whatever seems to fit your skill and personality best. But whatever you do, do it for God’s glory and not yours or anyone else’s.

If your personality is strong and you are comfortable with extemporaneous speaking, then you might use a manuscript in order to keep yourself from becoming too much of a distraction from the content of the message. You might also want a manuscript if you are less experienced or if you are prone to chase rabbits off the trail.

If you are naturally dry and monotone, then maybe you’ll want to use as few notes as possible so as to keep your eyes up and your face toward the congregation. Some preachers also find the discipline of using no notes in the pulpit to be an invigorating experience of God’s help and human dependence.

Remember that God’s Spirit will be with you in the study just as much as He is with you in the pulpit. Don’t be so naive as to think that a greater or lesser use of notes in the pulpit necessarily means any greater or lesser dependence upon God’s Spirit. Just prepare diligently, pray for God’s help, and faithfully preach as well as you may with whatever tools will help you do it with excellence and without distracting from God’s word.

May God raise up more faithful preachers, and may God bless the time and effort you might spend on this worthwhile task of preaching.

If you are a preacher, and if you are helped by any of the content I’ve listed here, then I’d be so glad to hear from you. If you aren’t far from East Texas, then I might even be interested in hearing you preach sometime. Drop me a line… Who knows what could happen?

What has the Sabbath to do with the Lord’s Day?

Have you ever thought much about the calendar?

If you’re like me, then your calendar pretty much runs your life most days. I have everything from church activities to gym time and my work schedule to family dinner scheduled on my calendar. My phone is constantly beeping at me, telling me what I’m supposed to be doing next.

But I wonder if it’s ever occurred to you that some people in the world, even right now, don’t have the same calendar as you do. I’m typing these words on September 13, 2020. But, on the traditional Chinese calendar, it’s the 26th day of the seventh month in the year of the Rat. Of course, China uses the Gregorian calendar when relating to most of the rest of the world, but there are several cultures in the world that keep dates and times differently than Americans do.

In Iran and Afghanistan, it’s the 25th day of the first month of the year 1442, which counts from the year when Muhammad arrived in Medina. On the Jewish calendar, it’s either the last month of the year 5780, or the first month of the year 5781. Modern Jews differ some with each other on exactly how to count the date.[1]

Interestingly, the Jewish year comes from a 4th century Jewish mathematician named Hillel, who calculated what he believed was the original date of creation, based on genealogies and other dates from the Old Testament. In fact, every calendar I could find from any culture was directly tied to one religion or another… It seems that humanity is – at its core – inevitably religious.

Not only is the annual calendar deeply rooted in religious observance, so too is the weekly calendar. So far as I can tell, there are only a few cultures in the history of humanity that did not observe a seven-day week. Fascinatingly, one of those cultures was ancient Egypt. They observed a ten-day week, and that’s almost certainly what the people of Israel would have been doing when they followed Moses out of their Egyptian captivity.

As with any ancient thing, there is some dispute about the exact origins of the seven-day week, for Israel or for anyone else.  Some argue that the Israelites borrowed the seven-day week from the Canaanites, who got it from the Babylonians, and (they say) the Hebrews transformed the seventh day of the week into a day that would suit their own religious practices.

As a matter of fact, if you do a Google search for “seven-day-week,” it will tell you that it originates from a Babylonian calendar, which was based on a calendar from the Sumerians, which itself dates back to around 2000 B.C. But the biblical view of the origin of the Sabbath (and of the seven-day week) for Israel is quite clear. Sabbath observance began when God commanded Israel to observe it, and with the Sabbath, at least for Israel, came the seven-day week.[2]

Incidentally, it seems to me that the seven-day week universally originates in God’s creative work. Adam and Eve were created on the “sixth day” of creation, and God “blessed” and “rested” on the “seventh day” (Genesis 1:26-2:3). Adam and Eve, learning God’s special blessing and rest on the seventh day, likely continued to practice something similar.

So, it is no surprise to me that the ancient historical record shows people groups from all over the world observing a seven-day week. They probably learned it from their parents, who learned it from their parents (leading all the way back to Adam and Eve), and they didn’t need special revelation to learn about a seven-day week or a weekly day of rest.

At any rate, what we are encountering in the 10 Commandments is nothing short of remarkable. The Bible is telling us about the beginning of the Israelite nation, the formation of Israel’s religion (at least in its Mosaic-covenantal system), and even the origins of Israel’s weekly calendar.

Let’s take a look at the biblical text – the 10 Commandments – and then I’ll make a case that the fourth commandment – the Sabbath command – was always meant to point to ultimate rest in Jesus Christ. After I make that case, I’ll turn toward the Christian Lord’s Day, and I’ll offer some pastoral instruction on why and how Christians are to observe the Lord’s Day each Sunday.

EXODUS 20:1–17 (ESV)

1 And God spoke all these words, saying, 2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 

3 “You shall have no other gods before me. 

4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. 

7 “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. 

8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 

11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. 

12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. 

13 “You shall not murder. 

14 “You shall not commit adultery. 

15 “You shall not steal. 

16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” 

WHAT IS THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT?

The fourth commandment begins in Exodus 20, verse 8: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, [or anyone else within Israel’s gates].”

But, the very first time the word “Sabbath” is mentioned in the Bible is Exodus 16. You might remember how God began to provide daily bread for His people – manna from the sky – to be gathered and eaten every day. But on the sixth day, God commanded His people to gather twice as much, so that they would not gather on the seventh day.

Instead of work, God indented His people to rest on the seventh day. God said,

“Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning.”

Exodus 16:23

Indeed, the root word for Sabbath means rest… and this is a constant and a key aspect of the Sabbath throughout the Mosaic covenant.

After some people disobeyed God’s command, and went out to gather manna on the seventh day, Moses rebuked them, saying,

“The LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.”

Exodus 16:29

Again, God’s command was that the Sabbath was a day of rest. The people of Israel were not to go out and work for their daily bread as on other days.

After that, the next time the Sabbath appears is in the 10 Commandments, and here it came with an example.

“For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

Exodus 20:11

Pairing the Sabbath command with God’s own rest on the seventh day of creation implies that both the Sabbath and the creation order itself (in some sense) point toward blessing and rest for God’s people.

In Exodus 23, God repeated and even emphasized the idea that the Sabbath was not just for the Israelites. It was also for the benefit of the foreigner and even the animals.

“Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed.”

Exodus 23:12

Here, again, we see that the Sabbath was a day of “refreshing” and of “rest.” This time we also see the emphasis that Sabbath rest was for anyone and anything associated with Israel, both alien and animal.

In Exodus 31, when God concluded the giving of the law and the instructions for the tabernacle, He repeated the Sabbath command yet again. Here there is added force behind the command, and God also set the Sabbath apart as a sign of His covenant with Israel. God said,

“Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.”

Exodus 31:12–17

So, again, the Sabbath was a day of “solemn rest” and “refreshing.” But here we see the added fact that God instituted this particular commandment as a sign “between [Him] and the people of Israel.” The sign of the Sabbath was to signify God’s “covenant” with Israel through Moses. And, anyone who didn’t keep or observe this sign of the Mosaic covenant was to be “put to death.” 

One last passage in Exodus gives us a bit more insight into this command, and that’s Exodus 35. Immediately after God finished giving Moses the commandments atop Mt. Sinai, the people of Israel formed an idol at the base of the mountain and started to worship it! You can read about that in chapter 32.

After that, Moses prayed for God’s mercy upon the people, and God graciously renewed His covenant through Moses with the people of Israel. That’s in chapters 33 and 34. And in Exodus 35, we’re told that Moses repeated God’s commands to the whole congregation of Israel (v1), but the one command explicitly recorded in the text is the fourth commandment – the Sabbath (v2). Here again, in this covenant renewal, God emphatically revealed the Sabbath command as a sign of His covenant with Israel.

I believe we can learn several things about the meaning of the fourth commandment from this summary (above) of the Sabbath passages in Exodus.

One, the fourth commandment was a command to rest, particularly from the work of everyday life.

Two, Sabbath rest was explicitly for the seventh day of the week, and it was for everyone (Jew and non-Jew alike) within Israel’s covenant community.

Three, the fourth commandment was a sign of the Mosaic covenant. It was a visible feature of God’s relationship with Israel.

Four, the Sabbath was to be kept or observed as a sign forever, or at least as long as the covenant itself was in effect.

Five, the fourth commandment, like God’s original work of creation, was meant to point forward to an anticipated and far greater rest in the future.

You can probably already see the uniqueness of the fourth commandment when compared with the other nine. In fact, I believe the Sabbath command serves as a kind of hinge point for the whole list.

The first set of commands are often called the “First Table” of the law because they pertain to our relationship with God. And the last six are often called the “Second Table” because they pertain to our relationship with other people. This fourth commandment seems to me to be in a category all its own. It is a sign which obviously points to something beyond itself and even beyond the other commandments.

Let’s turn our focus now to investigate this idea of “sign” more fully.

HOW IS THE SABBATH A SIGN?

We’ve already seen in Exodus that God has given this fourth commandment as a “sign” for His people. In fact, God gave the Sabbath as a “sign” of the Mosaic covenant in particular. But God attaching a “sign” to His covenant promises is not new with Moses or Sinai.

In Genesis 9, God made a covenant with the whole world through Noah, and God gave the sign of a rainbow, demonstrating His universal promise not to destroy the world again with water (Genesis 9:12-17).

In Genesis 17, God made a covenant with Abraham and his “offspring,” and God gave the sign of circumcision to go along with it (Genesis 17:11). This sign symbolized the promise – an offspring who would bless the whole world – and also symbolized the necessary separation between God’s people and the rest of the world around them.

In Exodus 20, with the Mosaic covenant between God and Israel, God gave the associated sign of the Sabbath. And the Sabbath signified God’s covenantal promises to Israel. More than that, it also pointed toward God’s ultimate promise of final rest for His people, something God had embedded in the very order of creation itself. As I said earlier, there’s something about the Sabbath and the order of creation that makes both of them imply God’s promises of blessings and rest.

Therefore, the question we must answer is: “What future rest did the Sabbath signal?”

The answer to this question is not too difficult to find in Scripture. The Bible as a whole clearly communicates the idea that “God’s rest” is ultimately provided in and through Jesus Christ. The New Testament picks up on this idea in several places, but let’s take a look at just a few.

The author of Hebrews, says that there “remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9), and he urges his readers to “enter [God’s] rest” (v11) by “drawing near” to God through the way which Jesus Christ has prepared by His priestly sacrifice (v14-16).

Revelation 14 contrasts the final destinations of the cursed and the blessed, and the text keys in on “rest” or the lack thereof. Those under God’s wrath will be tormented forever, and “they [will] have no rest” (v11). But those who are blessed by God will “have rest from all their labors…” (v13).

Rest is a major theme throughout the Bible, and rest is a particular feature of the promises of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But let me point to one more passage to demonstrate the specific connection of the Sabbath with that rest which is experienced in and through the New Covenant.

One very common question for early Christians, many of whom were Jewish, was, “What do we do with all of the Mosaic laws and holy days?”

In Colossians 2, especially verses 16 through 23, the Apostle Paul basically answered the question by saying that Christians may keep the laws and holy days if they wish. But the text is emphatic that Christians should only do so as an expression of love and gratitude toward Christ. Christians should never observe days or laws as an effort to earn or sustain a right standing before God.

On a side-but-related note, the New Testament also warns the Christians not to make legalistic demands on other believers who don’t share their same convictions about days or foods or social taboos (see Romans 14, the whole chapter). Therefore, any Christian who is convinced in his/her own mind that some Sabbath observance is still an obligation today should absolutely refrain from throwing that obligation upon another Christian.

Back in Colossians 2, we learn that ALL days are holy to those in the New Covenant, and no particular day is set aside as more or less holy than another. Christians are to live every day in love for and service to God. Christians don’t just worship in one location or on certain days of the week or month or year (see John 4). Christians live their whole lives to the glory and honor of God through Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:17). Incidentally, this is the essence of the third commandment!

As I said above, there is an explicit connection between the Sabbath and the rest which Jesus provides, and Colossians 2 shows us this connection. Additionally, Colossians 2 simultaneously links Sabbath observance with other obsolete aspects of the Mosaic covenant. The Scripture says,

“Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”

Colossians 2:16-17

In other words, the stipulations of the Mosaic covenant – including dietary laws, various holy days and ceremonies, and even the Sabbath – were all shadowy guides, which were always intended to aim people toward Jesus. Since Jesus Christ has come, He has unveiled the New Covenant, and He is the “substance” to which those “shadows” and signs pointed. Therefore, the shadows (including the Sabbath) are no longer necessary (much less obligatory).

Jesus obeyed every command God gave through Moses, Jesus did all of the work of an Old Covenant priest, and Jesus offered Himself as the once-and-for-all sacrifice for sin and disobedience. Now, in the New Covenant, all of God’s promises of blessing and favor and peace and rest have become accessible by grace through faith in Jesus.

I’m arguing that God’s Sabbath rest is available to anyone right now through the person and work of Jesus Christ! And, right there inside of the 10 Commandments, God gave Israel a picture of what God had always planned to give everyone who turns from sin and trusts in Jesus. God always planned to give real, true, and eternal rest in Christ.

Jesus Himself calls out to those who will listen,

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28–30

It is no coincidence that this call from Jesus, which is recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, is followed by two short narratives where Jesus demonstrates His own superiority to the Sabbath. Jesus offers a far superior rest to that of the Mosaic Sabbath!

WHY & HOW DO WE OBSERVE THE LORD’S DAY?

I said at the outset of this essay that my main point was to argue that the Sabbath command was always meant to point to ultimate rest in Christ. And that’s what I’ve tried to present to you so far. But the second half of my main point was/is that we (Christians) observe the Lord’s Day in order to celebrate our rest in Christ now and also to edify one another until Christ returns, bringing with Him the fulness of that promise of rest.

So, let me offer the following defense of this secondary theses: Christians observe the Lord’s Day, not as a new Sabbath, but as a uniquely Christian day, in order to celebrate Christian rest and to edify one another.

First, a very brief historical overview. The New Testament shows us that Christians began gathering on the first day of the week almost immediately after Jesus was raised from the dead on that Resurrection Sunday morning. In Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, Scripture clearly names the “first day of the week” (Sunday) as a special time for Christian gathering, for communion, for discipling, for teaching, and for regular financial giving.

In the book of Revelation, John tells his readers that something happened to him “on the Lord’s day,” and he assumes that his readers will simply know what day that is (Revelation 1:10). This strongly implies that within the first generation of the earliest Christians the first day of the week was already being referred to as “the Lord’s Day.”

In addition, many early Christians – especially those who were Jewish – observed both the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day as two distinct days in the weekly calendar. They didn’t initially see Sabbath observance as having any conflict with their Christian faith, so they kept the Mosaic Sabbath. But the universal Christian day of the week was clearly the Lord’s day (Sunday) and not the Sabbath (Saturday), so Christians gathered with fellow believers on Sundays for the purpose of corporate worship and edification. Early Christians were allowed to observe the Sabbath if they wanted, but they were never obligated to do so, however the Lord’s Day gatherings were compulsory (Hebrews 10:24-25).

It’s also important to note that it was about 300 years before Sunday was a day off from work in the Roman empire. Most Christians in the west today enjoy the benefit of having a full day off of work every Sunday. So, gathering on the Lord’s Day was a far more costly commitment on the part of early Christians. Additionally, for the first two to three centuries, the Lord’s Day was clearly not a Sabbath, since it was not a day on which Christians rested from work. But, when the Roman emperor Constantine designated Christianity as a nationally recognized religion, he also made Sundays a national day of rest.

Constantine’s appropriation of Christianity, more than anything else, seems to have been the initial step for Christians beginning to mix the Mosaic Sabbath with the Lord’s Day of the New Testament. The mixture of these two distinct days appears to have continued during the Medieval period, and it was certainly hardened during the Protestant Reformation. This is evident by the fact that all of my favorite Protestant confessions and catechisms conflate the Sabbath with the Lord’s Day. But, with all due respect, this simply ought not be.

The Mosaic Sabbath day was and is the seventh day of the week (Saturday). It was a day of rest and the sign of the Mosaic covenant, which pointed toward Christ and ultimate rest in Him.

The Lord’s Day was and is the first day of the week (Sunday). It is a day of celebration and edification, and it’s a particular day on which Christians anticipate final rest in Christ.

In short, the two simply are not the same. Both the New Testament and early Church history make this clear.

“Ok,” you might be thinking, “That’s all somewhat interesting, but what should Christians today do or not do on the Lord’s Day?”

Well, let me speak directly to the following questions which get into the nitty-gritty of that broader question above.

Why do we observe the Lord’s Day?

Christians gather on the Lord’s Day (1) because that’s what Christians have been doing right from the beginning, (2) because the New Testament teaches us to gather regularly for the purposes of celebration and edification, and (3) because our Lord and Redeemer came back from death to life on a Sunday morning… and that’s a really big deal.

How do we observe the Lord’s Day?

Christians observe the Lord’s Day, following the example of our Christian forebears, (1) by setting it aside for a particular focus on Christ and on His people, (2) by devoting time and effort to those things commanded in Scripture (particularly those things commanded among the saints when they gather), and (3) by commemorating what Christ has done as well as eagerly anticipating what Christ will do.

Let me finish this essay by giving three practical pastoral examples of the kinds of things Christians might do, especially on Sundays, in order to observe the Lord’s Day.

First, Christians should make a special effort on Sundays to show “brotherly affection” and “honor” to their fellow church members (Romans 12:10). Christians should look and listen for needs to meet among their fellow church members. Christians should come to church with the aim to serve others, and they should go out of their way to make other church members feel loved. Of course, all of this can and should take place before, during, and after the Sunday service (not just during a 2-hour window each Sunday morning).

Second, Christians should make a special effort on Sundays to be “kind” and to “forgive one another” (Ephesians 4:32). Christians should confess their sins to one another. They should ask for forgiveness from those they may have wronged. And they should make time and effort to forgive those who have wronged them. Sundays might be a weekly renewal for Christians who confess sin and forgive one another, thereby reaffirming and strengthening their mutually dependent discipleship as fellow church members.

Third, Christians should make a special effort to normally be together with their church family on Sundays. One distinct mark of contemporary evangelicalism is a bizarre willingness to be absent from the gathering on Sundays, but this is truly strange when compared with every expression of Christianity before the last 50 years or so. All of the special efforts we might make on Sundays (promoting godliness, participating in communal worship, and striving toward spiritual growth) presuppose the regular weekly gathering of the church. Additionally, the Bible commands Christians to gather regularly for congregational worship, prayer, preaching, fellowship, and edification. 

So, Christians should gather regularly with their fellow church members for the purpose of “stirring” one another up toward “love and good works,” for “encouraging” one another in the Lord, and for urging one another to “hold fast” to our trust and hope in Christ until He comes to bring us final rest (Hebrews 10:23-25).

May God help us all to find our ultimate rest in Christ. May God help us eagerly anticipate the final rest to come for all those in Christ. And may God help us (as Christians) to observe the Lord’s Day with intentionality and with joy.

[1] See more info on the Jewish calendar here: https://www.jewfaq.org/calendar.htm

[2] See Dressler’s helpful summary in his essay contained in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, pages 22-24.

Why is the Bible divided into the Old Testament and the New Testament?

The first known division of the two biblical Testaments was by a theologian and pastor in the late 2nd century, named Melito of Sardis. Melito listed 38 of the same 39 books we have today, with the only exception being the book of Esther, which he may have counted as part of one of the other books he listed.[1]

At any rate, Melito didn’t call the Old Testament the Old Testament… Instead, he called it the “παλαια διαθήκη,” which is Greek for Old Covenant or Old Testament. But Greek is a precise language, and there are at least two words which might be translated as covenant. One is “διαθήκη” and the other is “συνθήκη.” 

Unless you’re interested in studying Greek, knowing or remembering these words isn’t that important, but the distinction between the two is important.

συνθήκη means something like contract or agreement, allowing for and even expecting equality among the participants.

διαθήκη conveys the idea of a final will or testament, emphasizing a unilateral or lop-sided contract, where there’s a great benefactor and a lesser beneficiary.

We know what a final will and testament is because many of us have had to deal with settling the estate of a deceased loved one. When the deceased leaves a will behind, it’s usually far easier to distribute his or her assets according to his or her wishes, which should be outlined in the will.

The will is a formal contract, but there is obviously one party whose doing all the giving and the others are simply the beneficiaries.

The concept of a final will and testament, then, conveys what seems to be the biblical reality of God’s covenant with man – God is infinitely greater, He’s the ultimate giver, and man is merely the beneficiary. And that’s why Melito wasn’t alone in noticing that the word testament (διαθήκη) fits the biblical relationship between God and man slightly better than the word covenant (συνθήκη).

About 500 years before Melito, and almost 300 years before the birth of Jesus, 70 translators got together to translate the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek (this is called the Septuagint), and they too used the word διαθήκη to translate the Hebrew word for covenant because they also knew that God and man are not equal parties.

And around 400 AD, Jerome’s Latin translation of the Old and New Testaments (called the Latin Vulgate), followed the lead of those Greek translators. Jerome called the Old Testament the Vetus Testamentum.

Of course, all English translations have followed the Greek and Latin titles, and that’s why we call them the Old and New Testaments today, and not the Old and New Covenants, even though the English translations most frequently use the word covenant in the Scripture text itself.[2]

The division of the Bible into the Old and New Testaments is evidence that God is a covenant-making and covenant-keeping God. A good question for the reader to ask is, “Which biblical covenant pertains to me?” I recommend that you read Hebrews chapter 9 in the Bible, and then talk about it over lunch or coffee with a good pastor or knowledgeable Christian friend.


[1] See Eusebius’s account of Melito’s list in point #14 of this article. Also, note that Nehemiah was counted along with Ezra (aka “Esdras”) and Lamentations was counted along with Jeremiahhttps://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf201.iii.ix.xxvi.html#fnf_iii.ix.xxvi-p59.2

[2] https://standingonshoulders.wordpress.com/2009/05/31/where-did-the-term-old-testament-and-new-testament-come-from/

You can (and should) do Family Worship!

The Minter family (my family) has a history of some success, some failure, and several recommitments to a regular Family Worship time.

I (dad and husband) know the responsibility lays primarily upon me, and I admit that I have been far from perfect in leading my family in regular spiritual disciplines. But, over time, the efforts we’ve made to commit and recommit to a regular time of family Bible reading have been quite rewarding.

Right now, we’re on a pretty good streak of beginning our weekdays with a time of Bible reading, Scripture memorization, prayer, and singing. All of this takes about 30 minutes, and requires no preparation or planning.

We have been reading through the Bible (cover to cover), so we just pick up today where we left off yesterday. Sometimes we have more questions or discussion about the text, and sometimes chapters are longer or shorter, so we just read until we hit a good stopping place (usually 2-3 chapters).

For the last month or so, we’ve been working at memorizing Psalm 19. We concentrate on a verse or two for the whole week, and try to build on what we’re memorizing as we go. We read aloud, repeating the same small section 5-7 times, and then we try to recite as much as we can of the whole Psalm. Micah (our 13-year-old) is picking it up faster than Mom and me, but we are all doing pretty well.

After reading and reciting the BIble, we each pray. One of us prays a brief prayer of praise (praising God for something we read about in the text). One of us prays a brief prayer of confession (confessing sin, with an eye toward seeing how we fail to live up to what the Bible has called us to do or believe that very day). And one of us prays for 2-3 families on our church membership directory (which is tucked away in my Bible, so that we can systematically pray for each member over time).

Finally, we sing a song or two. Singing has only been part of our family worship time for about a year, but we have really grown to enjoy singing together. Recently (just a few days ago), we decided to sing a “hymn of the month.” We just pick a hymn we like, and we sing it every family worship time for the whole month, in hopes that we may have the song committed to heart and mind by the time we move on to the next one.

If you’ve never done anything like this, you might think this post is a kind of ringing my own bell, but I assure you it is not. As I said above, I am often ashamed to think of how many days I have failed to lead my family well. And there are times when I do lead us in Bible reading, but I do so with a cold heart (again to my shame).

No, this post is an off-the-cuff and simple invitation to anyone who is not currently making Bible reading, Scripture memorization, and prayer part of their daily parental or spousal activities.

You can do this! And you and your family will benefit greatly over time!

May God bless your efforts, and may He produce much fruit from the seeds you plant and water.

For an introduction to Family Worship and to see some helpful links and content, click What is Family Worship?

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