Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Jesus Wants Authentic Christians

60% of young Christians, ages 16 to 29 are leaving church.  60%!  Why are young people leaving churches today more quickly than ever before?  What do you think?  I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts at the end of this blog.  Please leave a comment.  

Maybe some of you came up with people being too busy.  Maybe others guessed changes in life situations.  Maybe still others guessed hypocrisy.  Truth be told, it’s all of the above.  But there’s an underlying reason for that.  Look at the reasons people give: too busy, life change, hypocrisy.  Do you see the common denominator?  The church no longer is important to them. 

Sadly, the perception of churches in our world today is that churches are irrelevant.  Can we blame those who feel this way?  Too many times the people who are on the outside of a church see people on the inside living inconsistent lives.  We put on a good show, but don’t live what we believe.  A couple of years ago, I even had a young woman come to church and after the second time she visited she said to me, “Pastor, I just don’t feel like I belong here.”  When I asked her why, she said, “I’m too messed up to be here.  When I look around it just seems as if everybody’s life is put together but mine.”  That deeply troubled me that she felt that way.  

Then I began to evaluate the atmosphere of our church.  But you know what, that was a mistake.  I shouldn’t have started with the church.  I needed to evaluate the atmosphere of MY heart.  Do I give the impression that everything is going great in my life?  Am I willing to reach out to those who I can sense are troubled?  Do I enter other people’s worlds and offer them the godly advice they need to hear?  Or am I afraid to engage?  Those are great questions, aren’t they?  Seriously, what if we became more intentional about truly sharing our burdens and celebrating our joys?  What if we became more intentional about making this place a “hospital for the broken”?  What if we became more authentic Christians?  Brothers and sisters in Christ – that is what Jesus wants!  Jesus wants authentic Christians.

Look at Luke chapter 14, starting with verse 1, “One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.”  The Pharisees were what we would call “church-going people.”  They went to the synagogue weekly and so did Jesus.  They were hard workers.  They were very moral people.  Guys with daughters, they were the kind of people you would allow to date your daughter!

One would think that Jesus would have admired their version of holiness, but he didn’t.  He was not impressed by their external morality.  He considered it to be self-righteousness rather than Godly righteousness.  Yet, that didn’t keep him from reaching out to them.  On this particular Sabbath, Jesus had been invited by a Pharisee to come and eat with him.  It was customary in those days to invite the visiting rabbi, or teacher, to their house after the worship in the synagogue.  
Luke however tells the real reason they invited Jesus.  “He was being carefully watched.”  That’s because just weeks earlier, Jesus had offended the Pharisees with His scathing indictment against their hollow religion recorded in Luke chapter 11, starting with verse 37.  I’d encourage you to read that section of Scripture at home.  After that, they tried to catch him in something he might say (Luke 11:54).

When invited to their homes for a meal, a formal affair with many rules of etiquette, Jesus went anyway.  Knowing that he was being set up to be scrutinized and criticized, even trapped into being labeled a “heretic.”  He went anyway.  Why?  Jesus ate with his enemies because he loved them.  Now, stop and think about that for a moment.  They hated him.  He loved them.  He was unwilling to give up on them.  Because He knew that deep down inside they just couldn’t believe that they were loved without earning that love.  That’s why they tried so hard to please God.  And here’s the deception: they honestly believed that they could make themselves lovable by what they did.
Can you identify with that?  I can.  Truth be told: all of us have a very unlovable side to us.  All of us have a very selfish, loveless side.  It’s ugly.  It’s ugly in God’s sight.  And it’s down right damnable!  We are a lot like an iceberg.  There’s about 10% of us that we let everyone see.  That’s the really good stuff.  But there’s 90% beneath the surface that, if we’re honest with ourselves, makes us feel ashamed.  And it makes us feel like we have to prove our worth to God.  Can you identify with that?  I can.

Do you realize that Jesus sees all 100% of you?  He sees all the ugliness.  And He loves us anyway!  We are loved.  In fact, we are adopted by God into His family by faith in Jesus Christ.  That doesn’t just make God our heavenly Father.  That makes us His adopted sons and daughters.  And did you realize that in Jewish culture, a father could actually disown his blood children?  But if a father adopted a child, he could not disown that child, no matter what.  We are loved.

Obviously, no where do we see that more clearly than on the cross.  The whole reason why Jesus died isn’t because of our sins.  That’s only part of it.  The whole reason is because of His love.  Maybe you’ve heard this statement before: It was our sins that put Jesus on the cross.  But it was His love that kept Him there.  Do you believe that?  My friends, that’s the first step to authenticity.  When we begin to believe and realize that in spite of our brokenness and ugliness, we’re loved, then we can begin to actually share and care for one another like Jesus did.  Jesus wants authentic Christians who believe that we are loved.
But there’s more.  Look at verse 2, “There in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy.”  It was no coincidence.  The Pharisees had brought this man in so that they could trap Jesus.  This man’s condition was very serious.  Today we would call dropsy – edema – which would also be a symptom of a more serious condition called congestive heart failure.  He was not only suffering.  He was dying.
So Jesus poses a question, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” (vs. 3) You might not realize this, but the Pharisees’ sect was made up of people who came from the two most prominent schools of rabbinic teaching, the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel. The reason Jesus asked this question was because these two schools of rabbinic teaching vastly differed on how to answer that question.  That would explain verse 4, “But they remained silent.”

Jesus didn’t care what they would say about him afterward.  He showed that loving people trumps what others think.  “So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him away.  Then he asked them, ‘If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?’  And they had nothing to say.” (vv. 4b-6)  Again, they had nothing to say because they differed in how to answer his question.  But the real problem was what was in their hearts.  They honestly cared very little for this man’s welfare.  They were too busy trying to earn God’s love that they couldn’t possibly love this man properly!  You see, you can’t give what you don’t have!  We can’t possibly love others, if we don’t have love ourselves.

Jesus loved authentically!  He had compassion on this man.  He healed this man, not only of his broken body, but also his broken heart.  That’s what turned people’s heads.  That’s what made people notice Jesus, because He actually cared.  He actually loved and changed people’s lives.
Jesus wants authentic Christians who are known by His love.  Jesus put it this way on a number of occasions, “A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).  Are we known by Jesus’ love?  

So tell me, do you have a co-worker whose marriage is falling apart?  Do you have a teenager who is struggling with acceptance?  Do you have a friend who’s addicted?  Love them.  Get messy.  Be bold.  Ask them the searching questions about why they are struggling.  Don’t be judgmental.  Show them authentic love.  Don’t just tell them, “I’m praying for you” and then walk away.  Pray for them, but invest in them.  Talk to them, but listen to them.  That’s what Jesus did.  That’s what will make this place a “hospital for the broken,” where we are willing to share our burdens and share Jesus’ healing love.  That’s authentic Christianity!  That attracts people to Jesus!  That’s what will bring people back!  So, tell me, who are you going to invest in this week and bring to church next weekend?  It’s time to get messy. 

-Chris Johnson, Outreach and Young Adult Pastor

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Response to John MacArthur’s video “Is Infant Baptism Biblical?”

John MacArthur has a sermon on YouTube that seems to prove that baptism of infants is not biblical and should not be done. Having listened to the sermon I feel he accurately shares the reasons why some non-denominational and Baptist churches have chosen not to baptize babies. There is more history here than a post on a blog can handle. I think a Biblical response to John MacArthur’s 5 points is necessary, because after my time in Scripture I’m convinced that a person of any age can and should be baptized. 

These are John MacArthur’s 5 main arguments

  1. Infant baptism is not in Scripture – not advocated or an incident recorded and therefore it is not biblical. 
  2. Baptism is always used to denote a full immersion. It is a symbol of the union of a believer to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. (Romans 6, Gal 2, 3, Col 2) Baptism is something that needs to be done as an act of obedience to the holy command of God.  
  3. Infant baptism is a replacement of circumcision, it is not in Scripture.  
  4. Infant baptism confounds the nature of the church and destroys the idea of who is a Christian. The world is full of those who are baptized yet are not in the true church.
  5. Not consistent with reformation soteriology. We are saved by grace through faith and baptism is an act of obedience. How could children have faith? Faith based on the parents or god-parents, surrogate faith. Infant baptism is nothing, has no saving efficacy, delivers no grace, confers no faith, is a symbol of nothing, it is absolutely and totally pointless.  It leads to ritualism, confusion, and false security.

Simply because something is not directly addressed in Scripture does not mean that it is forbidden. One example is the Trinity, a word that even though it is not in Scripture its idea is testified to as God reveals himself in the Bible. We can draw a reasonable conclusion or application from what God tell us. Such is the case for infant baptism. 

“In baptism God (not the parents, or pastor, or priest, or the water) offers and gives…” (Check out the list of passages on the bottom of this page to complete this sentence) Although baptism involves someone standing or being held and someone else saying, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” a person is not doing some sort of good work that earns the blessings given in those passages.  Just like we can not take credit for sitting and listening to a friend tell us the Gospel for the first time and then claim that it was earned by my act of listening. It is the Holy Spirit working together with God’s promise (ie. his Word) that gives baptism its power to create faith. baptism is in line with being saved by grace through faith. Through baptism God gives to us the same forgiveness Jesus won on the cross and faith that is grown and encouraged throughout a person’s life as God grows them through the Scripture. (Romans 10:17 – faith comes by hearing… or Luke 8 – the parable of the sower)

Babies are in deep need of the salvation their Savior won for them. Ephesians 2:4-5 explains, “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” All people are spiritually dead in sin because they are the offspring of a sinful mom and a sinful dad. Dead people don’t choose to do anything, spiritually dead people don’t do anything good either, especially believe. No one comes to faith by their power, choice, cognitive ability, etc. Our spiritual deadness is referenced in Psalm 51:5 – “sinful from conception” and Romans 3:23 – “all have sinned and fallen short”. Romans 6:23 also says “the wages of sin is death”. As tragic as it is, babies do sometimes die. According to Romans 6:23 what does their death tell us about their spiritual state? Babies are sinful and in deep need of a Savior, just like the rest of us.

Jesus died for babies too. The Holy Spirit can work faith in their heart in baptism too - faith that trusts God their Savior. Jesus said, “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.”  (Matt. 28:19, 20) “Nations” is an all inclusive word. It includes all races, both genders, and any age.  If you believe “nations” doesn’t refer to babies then you would also have to say it doesn’t apply to women either. God doesn’t limit baptism to only adults and neither should we.

It seems that John MacArthur found support for his understanding against infant baptism by looking at the examples of whole households being baptized in Acts and 1 Corinthians. What he did is change descriptive passages into prescriptive passages. This change of interpretation requires us to do what the people of the Bible did even though God did not command it. (Ex. Jesus wore sandals therefore we should wear sandals. OR I only see examples of adults being baptized so God only wants adults baptized.) The problem is that if we wanted to be baptized entirely as it was described in the circumstances of those in Acts and 1 Corinthians, then we would have to go and be baptized in the same rivers for it to be true obedience. But of course John MacArthur and others are selective in which part of the descriptive passage they want to follow. Because the Bible does not exactly describe the manner in which baptism was performed, it is not even possible to do it exactly the way they did it. (Ex. Should we immerse, dip, do I let you go under on your own, do I hold your hand, what temperature should the water be, etc…) 

It is amazing to me how much ink has been spilled to convince everyone they must be immersed for a baptism to be biblical. The word for baptism in the Greek is used in contexts beyond immersion such as that of ceremonial washing of cups, pitchers, and tables (Mark 7:4). The effectiveness of baptism does not rely on our ability to duplicate the original circumstances. The picture of Jesus death and resurrection can be shared regardless of how much water is used. If immersion was the only way to baptize I think the Lord would have told us clear as day, “you must immerse everyone for baptism to be effective.” To baptize you need water and God’s Word. Period.  

MacArthur stated that examples of baptism throughout Acts and 1 Corinthians show that people hear the Word, believe, and then are baptized and babies can’t do that and therefore babies shouldn't be baptized. In reality small children could have been in those families described and because of Matthew 18:5-6 babies could have been among those who believed and were baptized. 

In Matthew 18:5-6 we hear Jesus say, “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin...” The Greek word for “little ones” is micros, which denotes an extremely small child or an infant. Even these little ones can believe because the work of faith in our heart is an act of God and doesn’t depend on our ability to reason. (Eph 2:8, 9 - The case for infants or severely disabled believing) If anyone, including babies, has faith it is because of the Work of God making them alive.

MacArthur says that those who baptize babies make a case for baptism as a New Testament replacement for circumcision. But I don’t see Scripture making that connection of baptism as a replacement of circumcision.

MacArthur’s highlights the sad state of physical churches and that many who were baptized as infants are no longer believers as evidenced by their life. Sadly this is the case. It does not mean that infant baptism is ineffective but rather that the faith which began at baptism was not nourished as they grew up. They abandoned the faith given them. As in the parable of the farmer scattering seed, some people will come to faith and remain followers of Christ all their life. Unfortunately we have the awful freedom to reject Christ even after having been brought to faith. (Luke 8). We do not stop preaching simply because people fall away. We do not stop baptizing simply because people fall away. Instead we encourage parents to continue to bring their children up in the Word of God, as they are commanded by God. 

From a rational point of view, baptism doesn’t make any sense. It is effective only because God has commanded it and stands behind it. The power in baptism does not lie with the person doing the baptism (any Christian can baptize) or the place where the baptism is performed (it doesn’t have to be in a church) or special “blessed” water (normal tap water or river water is fine). It lies in God’s promise that through this sacrament he will create and strengthen faith.

When the children of Israel, on their way from Egypt to Canaan, were bitten by poisonous snakes as punishment for their rebellious grumbling, they turned to God for help.  Through Moses, God told them to erect a bronze snake on a pole. All who looked at it would be healed. Such a command made no logical sense. Yet it worked. The power was not in the bronze serpent, but in the promise that God made in connection with it. So it is with baptism. It is God’s promise to work faith and forgiveness through this sacrament that makes baptism the wonderful gift that it is.

-Pastor Eric Hansen, Discipleship Pastor

Additional Scriptures:
Acts 2:38  Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.

Acts 22:16  Be baptized and wash your sins away.

Ephesians 5:25,26  Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.

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.

John 3:3,5  In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again…..I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”

Mark 16:16   [Jesus said,] “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.

1 Peter 3:20,21  In it [Noah’s ark] only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also.

Romans 6:3,5  Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?… If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.

Galatians 3:26,27  You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who
were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ.

Ephesians 4:4,5  There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism.

Colossians 2:11,12  In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

Acts 8:12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.

Acts 16:15  When she [Lydia] and the members of her household were baptized…..

Acts 16:33  …then immediately he [the jailer] and all his family were baptized.