Saturday, January 26, 2013

Baptism and the Romans 14 Rule.

     Baptism is a command, to that all parties agree. Jesus in the great commission commands this act to be practiced until He returns. However, the method of it falls under a secondary practice by definition. The Christian faith does not stand nor fall on the method of one’s baptism. It stands or falls on the doctrine of God, the doctrine of Christ, the doctrine of Scripture, and the doctrine of salvation. Therefore, though baptism is a command, regarding it’s method it is a secondary practice. Therefore we apply this Romans 14 rule to it.

The rule is this: when a believer in this assembly[The Well] is governed by their faith and conscience over matters of secondary practice, we will not despise them nor pass judgment on them. We get this rule directly from Romans 14, so lets read a few verses.
“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables [v.1-2]....One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God[v.5-6]....So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.”[v.12] 
Now granted at this point Paul is only speaking about food and the observance of days. However those are just examples that Paul is using to make his point. The practice of eating food and observing days, like the method of baptism are secondary practices.  Paul continues...

“Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding[v.13-19].... But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin."[v.23]
Historically there has been three positions that have governed the local church in the area of baptism.
 1) The Baptist position.  This position allows only converts, that is professing believers or disciples to be baptized. Matt 28:19 “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,” 
2) The Presbyterian position which in addition to conversion baptisms, encourages believing parents to baptize their children. They see inclusion of children in the new covenant on the basis of the perpetual promise made to Abraham in Genesis 17. Abraham was commanded to circumcise all the males in his household, including the infants and aliens as a perpetual covenant. Abraham and his seed were to keep the covenant by receiving the sign of the covenant, namely circumcision. Now the N.T. tells us that all who are of faith are blessed and are called Abraham’s descendants. [Rom. 9:6-8; Gal. 3:9]. Therefore they argue that “the infant seed of believing Gentiles, even in the Old Testament, were partakers of the promises made to Abraham and so were in covenant with God; “therefore they are in it still, unless God hath repealed. it.””  (Joel Beeke, Mark Jones A Puritan Theology: Doctrine For Life. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012, pg. 728)  So their view is that since infants of believing parents are included in the covenant they are to receive the sign of the covenant.  In the New Covenant, this sign is baptism.  As evidence, it is often pointed out that in a couple places in the book of Acts(Acts 16:15; 33-34), and in 1 Cor. 1:16 whole households were baptized, therefore inferring that children were being baptized as well. 

Now certainly God is not confused as to what He had in mind.  He knows exactly what He intended, and both sides of this debate swear that their position is God's position.  Granted.  Yet in His providence, He has neither prohibited infant baptism, nor commanded it explicitly. In addition He has not explicitly commanded conversion only baptisms. Yet, He has commanded all to repent, believe the gospel and be baptized. So the 3rd position which is ours is the so-called  3)"Romans 14 position" This position allows for both positions to be practiced in one body.  This is not because we are relativists, nor because we simply want to take a third "less offensive" position.  All Christians everywhere ought to rigorously apply their mind to Scripture and good teaching and then practice in full faith and according to their conscience what they think the Scripture is teaching. We will not despise nor pass judgment on these believers. We have in mind that baptism is a sign that points to Christ. It is not intended to point to us. It is a means of grace so that we could see a picture of the gospel in it. We are not willing to divide over a sign. We will divide over the substance, i.e. the gospel, but not over the sign of it. That is our position. This is the Romans 14 rule. Sincere believers can have different views on the method of baptism. All parties however are bound by faith and conscience.  This binding of faith and conscience should be allowed to be the rule over secondary practices just as Paul commanded.  It is not safe nor right to advise them to violate their conscience, and it is a reproach to the gospel to make a sign of the gospel more important than the gospel itself and ask them to leave the church. We allow both forms to be expressed at the Well so long as the recipients of this sign are not doing it superstitiously, or treating it as efficacious for salvation or meritorious for earning God’s favor. We try to discern where people are at on this through an interview process.

We did not come to this position merely out of reaction, or a desire to be different from other churches. Major Christian leaders such as Mark Dever(a Baptist) and Ligon Duncan(a Presbyterian), men that we really like, started conference 6 years ago called Together For The Gospel. They practice this rule in a conference setting. We believe that this can be done in the same church under the same roof. 
We know have not come to this position in order to appease all parties nor because we are motivated to not offend at all costs. We know the gospel is offensive enough. We hold this position because we think it is a loving practice to those who hold differing views, and since it promotes love and maturity amongst our members, therefore it is most God-glorifying position in our view.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Invincible Necessity of God

All language is symbolic in nature, that is to say, that words are simply symbols that signify things.  They are not the things themselves, they are merely representations of the ideas.  They are in one sense, a verbal or written expression of the metaphysical essence that they are pointing to.  Having said that, we come to the word ‘nothing,’ and we find ourselves at a complete loss.  The word ‘nothing’ doesn’t really signify anything at all.  It is a word that has no meaning.  The moment we ascribe meaning to ‘it’ we contradict ourselves.  By calling ‘it’ an ‘it,’ we contradict ourselves.  In fact, the mere action of speaking about nothing is an absurdity in and of itself.   From his essay “Of Being,” Jonathan Edwards says this  

“That there should absolutely be nothing at all is utterly impossible.  The mind can never, let it stretch its conceptions ever so much, bring itself to conceive of a state of perfect nothing.  It puts the mind into mere convulsion and confusion to endeavor to think of such a state, and it contradicts the very nature of the soul to think that it should be; and it is the greatest contradiction, and the aggregate of all contradictions, to say that there should not be.  

Here Edwards addresses the subjective level.  How we as subjects, as thinking minds approach this idea of nothing.  But one note here that’s important is that the fact that the mind cannot conceive of it is not the reason why nothing cannot exist.  If the most superior mind attempted to conceive of nothing, the same result would ensue.  “Nothing” is a contradiction and cannot exist for the same reason that square circles cannot exist.  They are both contradictions in terms.  No exploratory empirical search ever needs to be commissioned to disprove their existence.  Not even God can make nothing exist.  One author puts it like this “If nonbeing is, it is not nonbeing...Since nonbeing cannot be, its nonbeing cannot be conceived.”
  That’s what Edwards means when he says the mind goes into mere convulsions when thinking about it.  He continues...

Tis true we can’t so distinctly show the contradiction by words, because we cannot talk about it with out speaking horrid nonsense and contradicting ourselves at every word, and because “nothing” is that whereby we distinctly show other particular contradictions.  But here we are run up to our first principle, and have no other to explain the nothingness or not being of nothing by.  Indeed, we can mean nothing else by “nothing” but a state of absolute contradiction.  And if any man thinks that he can think well enough how there should be nothing, I’ll engage that what he means by “nothing” is as much something as anything that ever [he] thought of in his life; and I believe that if he knew what nothing was it would be intuitively evident to him that it could not be....[To think of nothing] we must think of the same that the sleeping rocks dream of; and not till then shall we get a complete idea of nothing. A state of nothing is a state wherein every proposition in Euclid is not true, nor any of those self-evident maxims by which they are demonstrated; and all other eternal truths are neither true nor false.”

Therefore, being is a necessary thing, and necessarily eternal. 

Edwards continues [Therefore] we see it is necessary that some being”  Meaning that it’s not just impossible for you to imagine an opposite state of affairs, it is actually impossible that there could ever have been an opposite state of affairs or that there ever will be an opposite state of affairs.  Which means that “ is necessary that some being should eternally be.”  How does he make that leap here?  How does he make the leap from the necessity of being to the necessity of that being eternally existing?  Because if it be impossible for “nothing” to exist at any time, it’s impossible for “nothing” to exist for all time.  Or we could say that it is impossible for “nothing” to ever exist.  Therefore, there must by necessity exist a being from all eternity and to all eternity.   And this is what the Scripture testifies to.  When speaking of the Holy Spirit in Hebrews 9:14, the author calls Him the “Eternal Spirit.” 

This being is necessarily infinite and omnipresent

Edwards continues his argumentation:  
“...’tis a more palpable contradiction still to say that there must be being somewhere, and not otherwhere; for the words “absolute nothing” and “where” contradict each other.  And besides, it gives as great a shock to the mind to think of pure nothing in any one place, as it does to think of it in all; and it is self-evident that there can be nothing in one place as well as in another, and so if there can be in one, there can be in all.  So that we see that this necessary, eternal being must be infinite and omnipresent.”

So this being must be infinite because a finite being has boundaries by definition.   The finite has limits, it is confined and fixed and restricted.  But this necessary being cannot be fixed because of his previous argument, namely, that nothing is a contradiction in terms.  You can’t have something in one place surrounded by finite boundaries, and then have nothing in another place beyond those boundaries because nothing is not a something to occupy a space.  Therefore this necessary eternal being is infinite.  Solomon declares in 1 Kings 8:27 “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!” (cf. Jeremiah 23:24)
What that also implies necessarily is that this being is omnipresent. It  is present in all places at the same time.   Just as the Scriptures say that nothing on earth is hidden from the heat of the sun[Psalm 19:6], nothing in all of existence is hidden from the presence of this Being.  Psalm 139:7-10 “Where shall I go from your Spirit?  Or where shall I flee from your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, you are there!  If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” 

Therefore this being is necessarily Spirit 

Edwards continues 
“This infinite and omnipresent being cannot be solid.  Let us see how contradictory it is to say that an infinite being is solid; for solidity surely is nothing but resistance to other solidities.”

This forces us to conclude that this being is Spirit, because if it was solid it would not be omnipresent because strictly speaking no two solids can occupy the same space and retain their identity.  Therefore this being is necessarily Spirit.  And that is exactly what Jesus testified to in John 4:24 ”God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 

Corollary:  The Spiritual World is more real than the Material World
The spirit world is more real because it is necessary while the material is not.  You can imagine God, the eternal Spirit never creating anything, yet you can never imagine the nonexistence of God. “From hence we may see the gross mistake of those who think material things [to be] the most substantial beings, and spirits more like a shadow; whereas spirits only are properly substance.”
   In other words the Spirit is the most real, and everything else is image and shadow of it.  In Hebrews when the author is speaking about the material sacrifices that the priests were to make he says “They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things.” [Hebrews 8:5; cf. 10:1]

This being is necessarily Holy

Because this Being is and because it is impossible for it not to be; it is therefore Pure Being.  Because it is Pure Being, it is impossible for it to be anything but perfectly Holy; because holiness is agreement with pure being.  Holiness includes the quality of being “Free.. from impurity...” It is that which is “whole, entire or perfect...”
  To say that this Pure Necessary Being could be less than perfectly Holy(meaning it being partially impure) would be to say that this Being is a mixture of being and non-being together, but since non-being is impossible, this Pure Being is necessarily Holy.  He is necessarily Pure Being, in other words, necessarily holy.   Let’s illustrate this using the shorter catechism’s definition of sin.  What is sin?  Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of the law of God.
  So sin is evil, which is the opposite of holiness.  So what is evil?  It is a corruption, it is that which contains qualities that injure.  It is a “want [or lack] of conformity.”  Lack of conformity to what?  To God, to pure necessary Being.  For God to lack conformity unto Himself, is to say that He can be less than Himself.  In other words, God can be non God.  A can be non A.  That is a contradiction and an absurdity.  God must be totally Himself, which is pure Being, and therefore He is purely holy.

This Being is Necessarily Divine

One more argument from Edwards before we tie all this together.  Here he’s going to argue for the necessity of the consciousness of God or the self-awareness or personhood of God.  He says this

“ it doth grate upon the mind, to think that something should be from all eternity, and nothing all the while be conscious of it.  Let us suppose, to illustrate it, that the world had a being from all eternity...and all the while nothing knew; there was no knowledge in the universe of any such thing.  How is it possible to bring the mind to imagine?  Yea, it is really impossible it should be, that anything should be, and nothing know it.  Then you’ll say, if it be so, it is because nothing has any existence anywhere else but in consciousness....Let us suppose for illustration this impossibility, that all the spirits in the universe to be for a time deprived of their consciousness, and God’s consciousness at the same time be intermitted.  I say, the universe for that time would cease to be, of itself; and not only...because the Almighty could not attend to uphod the world, but because God knew nothing of it.”

It another words in order for consciousness to not exist, you must concede that nothing exists. “Consciousness must be an essential attribute of spirit.”

Therefore, because Being is necessary, and this Being is eternal, infinite, omnipresent, is a Spirit, is Holy, and has consciousness, this Being is therefore the supreme Being, namely, God.  That’s what it means to be God is to have all of theses attributes.  Speaking for the LORD, Isaiah declares “... understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the LORD.” [Isaiah 43:10-11] “I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me.  Who is like Me?  Let him proclaim and declare it;...Is there any God besides Me,...I know of none.” [Isaiah 44:6, 8]

Is God less worthy an object of worship because He is necessary?

Does the fact that He is a necessary being diminish His glory?  (Skeptic) ‘After all, He is a “necessary being, where is the beauty and glory of merely occupying existence?  Why should we glorify a being that has to exist?’  My first answer is  that although He is necessary, you and I are not!  He didn’t have to create us, so on that basis alone, all glory goes to Him.  However, in addition to that, what assumption is being smuggled in this objection? ‘God is a “necessary being” THEREFORE He couldn’t be otherwise.’  Ok, but what assumption is being smuggled in there?  That the ability to do otherwise is the highest virtue.  Where do we get that idea?  Straight from the pit of hell and re-fashioned into what is nowadays called libertarian freedom.  Libertarian freedom is defined as the ability to do or do otherwise, apart from any form of necessity or constraint.  So the objection more carefully distilled down would be this ‘If God is a necessary being, then He is not free.  If He is not free, then He is not glorious.’   But this objection is completely fallacious because it equivocates on two words, namely, freedom and necessity.  Freedom cannot be defined in the Libertarian sense because it is a contradiction.  Every being is compelled or bound to be themselves.  They cannot be and not be at the same time.  That is necessity.  A thing cannot be less than itself, otherwise it ceases to be that thing.  Part of what that means, is that the attributes that belong to any particular being necessarily restrict that being from  being less than those attributes. If those attributes are lost, then that being ceases to be what it once was.  So if God loses His attributes, then He ceases to be God, which means that there is no universe, only nothingness.  But we have already seen that nothingness is a complete contradiction, and therefore God must be.
Therefore the definition of freedom must include the necessity to do as our nature or attributes dictate.  In other words A must always, by necessity, equal A.  The Scripture testifies loud and clear to this truth.  2 Timothy 2:13 says “[God] cannot deny himself.”  Cannot, that means not able.  No ability.  God has no ability to deny who He is and become less than He is.  He must be who He is.  “I AM WHO I AM” God tells Moses in Exodus 3:14   Which means “I WILL ONLY BE(necessity) WHAT I AM(identity).  God here was declaring His name, by proclaiming that He exists, and that He is the only one that exists in a way that is independent of all other beings, making Him the freest being in existence, by necessity.  Which means that He has no ability to make a choice that would violate His infinite perfections.  So...what free choices does God make? “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” [Psalm 115:3]  What does he do?  “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.” [Psalm 135:6] And because He is pure and therefore Holy, that which pleases Him is perfect holiness in Being, which is limitless happiness. Edwards said “God is infinitely happy in the enjoyment of Himself, in perfectly beholding and infinitely loving, and rejoicing in, His own essence and perfection.”  And that is good news for creatures that He has made to share in His happiness. He is worthy of all our attention, all our praise, and all of our love.  
 “...He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.” [1 Timothy 6:15-16]