Wednesday, July 17, 2013
The subject of baptism has been an unhappy division in the Christian Church. Something which Jesus never intended, but sadly, because we are sinful human beings, is a result of our misunderstanding of baptism. We need to search the Scriptures to make sure that we clearly understand what Jesus meant regarding baptism.
When seeking understanding of baptism, I believe it is important to begin with what Jesus said in Matthew 28:19-20. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” A close look in the original Greek language, in which the New Testament was written, indicates a number of very important factors we need to keep in mind. First, Jesus’ command for His disciples was not to “go”. No, it was to “make disciples.” Everywhere we go we are to make disciples. Jesus then indicates the means by which He wants us to carry out that command, baptize and teach.
Second, when Jesus said, “baptizing them,” we have to ask the question, who is the “them”? Some may think that it refers back to disciples, but it doesn’t. “Make disciples” is one word, a verb. A pronoun like “them” cannot refer back to a verb. It must refer back to another noun. The pronoun “them” refers back to all “nations”. Clearly, since Jesus’ command is to make disciples of all nations, one of the ways that disciples of all nations are made is through baptism. The other way is through hearing the message of Jesus. Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” So in other words, the Holy Spirit works through two different means to bring people to faith. One is the Word of God. The other is through baptism, which, lest we forget, also has the Word of God empowering it.
The question we have to ask is: Are infants a part of “all nations”? Clearly, the answer is “yes.” So did Jesus command us to make disciples of infants? Yes. How? Through baptism and teaching. Children who are baptized are meant to receive the same benefits of faith as adults. That’s why the apostle Peter in his Pentecost sermon said, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children…” (Acts 2:38-39). Faith receives forgiveness which Jesus earned. Faith receives power to live differently which Jesus promises in connection with baptism (Romans 6:1-14). Faith receives salvation which is promised through baptism in Titus 3:5, “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” as well as 1 Peter 3:20-21, “In it, only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ…”
Clearly, there is no age restriction based on what God teaches us in these Scriptures. Do little children need the blessings of baptism? Yes. Little children are born sinful. Psalm 51:5 teaches, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Therefore, even little children need forgiveness. (There is more on this subject of little children and sin in the next paragraph.) Little children need to be brought into God’s family. Baptism makes that happen. Galatians 3:26 teaches, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Little children need faith to receive the benefit of what Jesus did through his perfect life, death and resurrection from the dead. Little children can believe. Jesus taught that in Matthew 18:6, “But if anyone causes one of these little ones (i.e. baby) who believe in me…”
Some will argue that little children don’t need baptism because little children are not held accountable. Those who teach an "age of accountability" do not really derive it exegetically from Scripture. But in order to defend it, yes, they will often use Isaiah 7:15-16.
It's important to notice what this passage says and doesn't say. Isaiah's words assume that there is an age below which a child doesn't understand the moral implications of his or her actions--something that every parent knows and our criminal justice system reflects. "Age of discretion" would be a good term for this concept.
"Age of accountability" advocates, however, reason that a child who is unaware of moral implications can therefore not be held responsible or declared sinful by God. That logical step is missing from Isaiah 7:15-16, and Scripture's doctrine of original sin clearly teaches otherwise.
Original sin (also known as "inherited sin") is defined as the guilt and corruption which all people have from conception and birth (thus having to do with our "origin"). As one of our theologians has phrased it: "The sin of our first parents [Adam and Eve] was of disastrous consequence not only to them personally, but also to all their offspring, inasmuch as the guilt of their first transgression is imputed, and the corruption of their nature is transmitted, to all their children. The first is called hereditary guilt, the other hereditary depravity."
Among the various Bible sections that speak of this universal malady, the following are representative: Romans 5:12-15,18-19; Genesis 5:3, 6:5, 8:21; Psalm 51:5; John 3:6; Ephesians 2:1-4. Every child born is born sinful and spiritually lost.
As emphasized throughout Scripture, let us give thanks that Christ's righteousness is also imputed to us sinners (See the Romans 5 section listed above). The remedy has been supplied by our gracious God. "Where sin increased, grace increased all the more" (Romans 5:20). So when it comes to children -- "Age of discretion"--yes. "Age of accountability"--no.
Some will argue that because there are no clear examples of infants being baptized in Scripture that we should not baptize them. I firmly believe that because Jesus commands us to baptize all nations, infants, who are sinful and in need of forgiveness, are included in that command. Even though there are no clear examples of infants being baptized there are specifically stated examples of “households” being baptized. A “household” or “family” to an ancient Jew, Greek or Roman included the children and infants. Among the Romans, a family was defined as all those under the authority of the head of the household. This included children (whether by birth or adoption), unnamed daughters, and the sons’ families. The Roman household even included the “slaves” and their children as well.
The Greek word “oikos” that was in use at the time the New Testament Scriptures was written included children and infants. The Hebrew word for “household” also included infants and children. By using “oikos” without any further qualification, the inspired writers show that infants were also to be baptized as members of a household. Whether or not the households actually had infants in them or not is beside the point. That “oikos” is used to describe the events shows that the full household was to be baptized. That would include infants. The language and terms used to describe these events in the Scriptures when households were baptized demands the inclusion of infants in Jesus’ command to baptize all nations.
-Pastor Chris Johnson, Outreach and Young Adult Pastor
Wednesday, July 3, 2013
"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands; one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
During the height of the cold war of 1954 between Communist Russia and this country President Eisenhower attended a sermon that changed the pledge of allegiance forever. The Pastor speaking about the pledge of allegiance said, "Apart from the mention of the phrase 'the United States of America,' it could be the pledge of any republic. In fact, I could hear little Muscovites repeat a similar pledge to their hammer-and-sickle flag in Moscow." This preacher urged the inclusion of "under God" in the pledge to denote what he felt was special about the United States. (Especially compared to communist Russia which had no God) President Eisenhower agreed. In 1954 “under God” was added to the pledge of allegiance. As Eisenhower signed it into law he said, “This day forward, the millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim, in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty.”  Even though the word “God” or “the Almighty” could mean just about anything depending upon who is speaking at the time it was a given that the US was a Christian nation. Most surveys today will still tell you that the United States is by percentage (79%) a Christian nation. 
If in fact statisticians are accurate and this nation is Christian, what are we showing the world about Christ? Because honestly, when people see a CHRISTian they see Christ. What kind of reputation has he received through us?
You can look to the religious opposition to get one view of CHRISTians. In Sam Harris’ book “Letter to a Christian Nation” he gives his atheistic view of Christians. He says, “Thousands of people have written to tell me that I am wrong not to believe in God. The most hostile of these communications have come from Christians… The truth is that many who claim to be transformed by Christ’s love are deeply, even murderously, intolerant of criticism.” This is one mans response to his interactions with Christians. It hits close to home.
The worldview from other religions is even worse. Consider a Muslim view of Christians. Joseph Mattera, a leader of a church in Brooklyn, New York, regularly interacts with Muslim families and had this to say about what they see in Christians.
“Since most Muslims view Western Europe and the United States as Christian, they equate the moral decadence of these nations with the morality of the average Christian. With the preponderance of pornography, scantily-clad women, abortion, homosexuality, the use of foul language on television, and the overall corruption of society, they believe it a reflection on Christian ethos.” 
I’m not sure if you’ve heard this Christian reputation before but for me it opens my eyes pretty wide. There are so many supposed Christians preaching thousands of sermons with their actions that are misrepresenting Christ. Those people out there drag Jesus’ name through the mud.
I’m glad I’m not like that. Or, do I contribute to the reputation being formed by the masses. When someone looks at me do they get an honest representation of what Christianity should be? When they look at me do they see someone that exudes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control? We can’t pass the blame solely to those radicals out there when Christianity’s reputation starts with us. Try as we might in our own little ways we’ve added to the reputation of fakeness, empty actions, religious and biblical ignorance, and the hypocritical reputation of Christianity. It makes me wonder if it is all that bad of an idea to hide our CHRISTian affiliation as a nation.
Of course there is a better solution to foster a positive Christian reputation. It starts with the basic rhythm of your life. With the cross in full view every day, I know that I am forgiven and empowered to live and interact differently. My sin is not my defining characteristic before God.
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)
Over this next week as you celebrate our nations independence live such a good life that you make Christianity look good to your neighbors. Even if they don’t get your God yet, you do. You know what he has done for you. Remember: Chosen, priest, holy nation, possession of God. When you own that there is no way people will mistake a life of honesty, hard work, respect for others, and love for one’s family for being anything but Christian. It’s the people living in a nation that make a nation what it is. CHRISTianity’s reputation starts with you.
-Pastor Eric Hansen, Discipleship Pastor