We can be confident that a child who professes faith in a Reformed church has true faith because of the Reformed tradition’s emphasis on the right administration of baptism. This might sound a bit circular or truistic or redundant (I don’t know what the right adjective here is). But it is true.
I have heard many stories about a popular church on island that does not carefully administer baptism. Said church has baptism services at the beach where people have signed up last minute to be baptized, sometimes because of being peer pressured by friends to sign up, many baptism candidates have not been interviewed before the day of the baptism (I have no idea what the conversation with the candidates are like on that day), and once I even heard a candidate came drunk to the service, was refused by one pastor, but allowed by another pastor on the same day.
By God’s grace, we try to be very clear with the gospel each Sunday, and very clear with a call to repentance and faith in response to the gospel. And with repentance, we actually try to find actual sins the baptism candidates can actually repent from. If there is an unwillingness to repent of anything, we would delay baptism. In my mind, that is pretty careful, and at the same time, pretty simple.
We also make baptism entrance into church membership. I repeat: it is entrance into church membership. It is not pre-requisite to membership; it is membership. The church and new member make a covenant with each other in their baptism. They are a member the moment they come up out of water.
Therefore, we do not baptize anyone who is not willing to be a committed member of the church. That goes for kids too. They must open themselves up to the accountability of the church, they must be willing to confront others about sin (or at least talk to their parents about another member’s sin), they must be willing to submit to the elders, and they must be willing to serve. In other words, we only administer baptism to those who are ready to become followers of Christ. So if there is a basic understanding of what it means to be a part of a local church, and they still want to be baptized, I do not really know how much more careful you can be (except for too careful).
What it is not:
- an evangelistic rally of some sort- any church who makes Sunday morning more geared for the non-Christian than it is for the Christian is at best a parachurch ministry
- the church- we often say “let’s go to church” on Sunday morning. We kind of know what we mean. Or do we? Any church who thinks of “church” as mainly Sunday morning is confusing a little bit what the church does versus who the church is
What it is:
- the main gathering of the church (Acts 20.7)
- a mixed gathering in most places I know of, where it is mostly the church, often mixed with visiting Christians looking for a church, and almost always mixed with some unbelievers who either think they are Christians or are looking into Christianity
- a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus (Matthew 28)
- the main time of the week where the flock (Christians) are to be fed, pray together, fellowship, and break bread together (Acts 2.42)
- a great time for unbelievers to be saved (1 Corinthians 14.25); the church should evangelize 7 days a week, and they should not depend on the preacher to evangelize their friends, and Sundays are mainly for Christians to get fed. BUT, it is still a perfect time for the unbeliever to hear a skillful delivery of the gospel, and to see what the gospel does to the Church.
- It is a time of worship! It is for God. It is to please Him. It is to approach and engage the living God in exactly the way He desires to be worshiped. Every decision about Sunday morning that does not begin with God in mind is a decision starting off on the wrong foot.
What we try to do on Sunday morning is make it so for God, that it will automatically be foreign to the unbeliever. If an unbeliever ever feels right at home in our worship gathering, something is seriously missing. One of the things we have been trying to communicate recently to guests is that if they are not a Christian: 1) We are so glad they came! 2) Until they become a Christian, they can only observe worship; they cannot truly participate.
May the Lord increase the number of His worshipers on the Lord’s Day!
- It is never commanded
- Christians need to be taught the Bible
And #3: The Christian life is never meant to be mainly “personal”
This could get “personal” for some of you. But I hope it is biblical. Before anything else let me be clear: the only way anyone becomes a Christian is by personally responding to the gospel with repentance and faith. Our relationship with God is a personal relationship through Christ. No doubt.
But then what does the Christian life look like after entering into a personal relationship? Consider the following:
Acts 2.42, after 3000 personally responded to the gospel: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
Acts 4.32: “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul.”
Acts 20.20, 31: “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house...remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.”
Romans 15.14: “you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.”
Ephesians 4.15-16: “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
Hopefully that gives you a taste of the corporate nature of the Christian life. And I would challenge anyone to find the kind of emphasis on personal Christian walk in the Bible that would all of a sudden make personal devotions such a trademark of spirituality. Some implications:
- We have all probably been too quick to make personal, individualistic applications of passages, rather than corporate, local church applications. It does not need to be either/or, but I suspect for many it has only been the former instead of the latter.
- Personal quiet time is not more spiritual than family quiet time or married couple quiet time or church quiet time
- There is no better way to be of one heart and one soul with your church than to regularly read the bible and pray together.
- If anything, there is much more emphasis on the corporate nature of the Christian life than the individual nature in the Bible. Therefore, there may be greater humility and accuracy in seeking to grow as a member of your church rather than just abstractly as a Christian. In other words, “Jesus loves me” probably should be replaced more often than not with “Jesus loves us.” Too much “Jesus loves me” apart from the church really starts to become a man-centered gospel after a while.
So with that, keep reading your bibles as much as you can!
My aim in these posts is for Christians to stop making traditional quiet-time-consistency a measuring stick for spiritual maturity. I am not discouraging anyone from reading the bible day and night! I am trying to discourage you from making quiet times a measuring stick for Christian maturity. The single mom who devotes herself to the public reading of Scripture, exhortation, and the teaching each Sunday and applies that to her life throughout the week, but never has a traditional quiet time through the week, may be more mature than the Christian who does not hear good preaching on Sunday but has a great read-thru-the-bible-in-a-year plan and never misses a day.
Really, I am trying to help clarify biblical maturity. And as I said in the last post, the bible never commands daily devotional readings. The bible commands us to meditate on the Law day and night. And regularly meditating on the Law will lead you to meditate on the gospel. And meditation upon God’s Word can come in all shapes, sizes, time frames, and contexts.
A second reason I want to discourage you from asking people “how’s your time with the Lord” to gauge their spiritual life is because Christians need to be taught the Bible. Christians need to be fed by pastors and teachers. In other words, the Bible does not emphasize our need to feed ourselves during our quiet times.
Consider these passages:
“Do you love me…feed by lambs…do you love me…tend my sheep…do you love me…feed my sheep.” (John 21.15-17)
“he gave the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, to equip the saints” (Eph 4.11-12)
“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers.” (James 3.1)
- there is no guilt in always wanting to be taught by your pastors and sunday school teachers the meaning of different passages
- using commentaries and other helps to understand the bible gets you to the exact same place as when you read a passage yourself and understand it; there is no more virtue in studying the bible with just your bible than there is in studying the bible with a commentary on hand
- When you ask someone, “how’s your time in the Word going?” what you should mean is “how is the preaching of the Word on Sundays affecting your life?” before you mean “how is your daily bible readings affecting your life?”
- What if someone has bad methods of interpreting the bible? A daily quiet time in the traditional sense could be disastrous!
- Humble yourself, Christian. Stop thinking you need to teach yourself. There’s nothing wrong with teaching yourself. But wouldn’t you rather have John Calvin and Matthew Henry and D.A. Carson and your pastors teach you? They are gifts from God to you
I wonder if personal quiet times are more a product of 21st century individualism than true, Christian piety. More on that next time
Remember, I would never discourage anyone from reading their bible. I intend only to encourage Christians to read the Bible more and more faithfully.
Let me also clear up one possible misunderstanding: the title of these posts is “away with personal devotions!” I should clarify: I want to do away with personal devotions as most Christians I know conceive of it. I want to do away with the notion that spiritual maturity has a direct correlation with the amount of time one spends with a bible and notebook each morning. I want to do away with the notion that consistency in “personal quiet times” is a tell-tale sign of spiritual health. I want Christians to stop asking “how is your devotional life?” as a spiritual diagnostic question. I want the stay-at-home mom who never has time for a traditional “quiet time” to stop feeling guilty about that!
Why? I’m glad you asked.
My first answer is it is never commanded. The Bible never commands personal quiet times or personal devotions or whatever you want to call it. You might think, “what about Psalm 1: blessed is the man…his delight is in the Law of the Lord and on His Law he meditates day and night?”
I say “amen!” But notice two things about what Psalm 1 says:
- You’re blessed if you meditate- it does not merely say read or spend time with the Lord. It says meditate. Pore over His Word. That can come in many different forms, not merely in a personal quiet time. That could come in the form of personal, alone time in the Word, OR thinking about the sermon text, OR thinking about a verse your friend shared with you yesterday, OR listening to sermons online, OR having family worship day and night. The possibilities are endless. But the question is “have you meditated on God’s word today?”
- You must meditate on the Law- It also technically says “his delight is in the Law.” That could be more, but it is not less than the 10 Commandments. We should meditate on God’s Law, how high His standard is, how we break it over and over, and let that drive us constantly back to the gospel. Meditate. God’s Law. Day and night, meaning all the time. If you want to know how someone is doing spiritually, ask them, “have you thought deeply about how you have broken God’s commands today?” Then preach the gospel to believer and unbeliever alike.
Have you meditated on the Law today?
Let me be clear on one thing: I would never discourage anyone from reading their bible. I would only encourage people to read it more and more faithfully.
Let me define “personal devotions”- an individual worship time, usually involving reading the bible and prayer.
Some people call it a “quiet time” or “time with the Lord.” I grew up being encouraged to have daily “quiet times” and it often involves a journal. For me today, it always involves a cup of coffee.
I would never discourage anyone from reading their bible. I would only encourage people to read it more and more faithfully.
The one thing I would discourage today: let us stop making Christians feel like “personal devotions”– whether you had one today and how consistent you are in having them– are one of the key measures for Christian maturity.
- It is never commanded
- Christians need to be taught the Bible
- The Christian life is never meant to be mainly “personal”
I will tackle these in subsequent posts. Related to number 2, please consider coming to this event in January
Lord willing, and to the praise of His glorious grace, we will be baptizing two young men in a couple weeks. At our church, we make sure we completely immerse someone in water. Unless someone is completely immersed in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I am inclined to say it might not be Christian baptism. Many of my professors from seminary would say it much stronger than that. And I understand. Either way, everybody should think the mode, or the method or the form, of baptism is important.
Why do Baptists care about the mode of baptism so much?
- Westminster Confession of Faith says “Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world.”–mind you, it was Presbyterians who wrote this, who largely disagree with Baptists on the mode of baptism. But we all believe Christ appointed something “until the end of the world,” and that something means a lot of good things for the believer. We should want to do exactly what Jesus commanded when it comes to the sacraments.
- Related to this, the word “baptize” in the Bible clearly means either to immerse or dip or wash. Paedobaptists believe “wash” can include sprinkling. Baptists are famous for over-emphasizing “immerse” as the only meaning of that word sometimes. I have been guilty of that. But I do assert that “baptize” means “immerse.” It can mean other things, but it does also mean “immerse.” And if burial with Christ is really meant to be communicated in baptism (Rom 6.4), then immersion is a fine form, is it not? Some argue that Jesus was buried above ground, therefore, you do not have to “bury” someone under water. Even if Jesus’ tomb was above ground, I am fairly confident you could not see any part of his body sticking out of the tomb. In other words, he was buried! Because of all this, why not err on the side of caution when it comes to one of Jesus’ sacraments, and immerse?
- When Jesus says “be baptized” regarding baptism, it is the equivalent of him saying “take and eat” regarding the Eucharist. Some have argued that for Baptists to care about mode so much means they should never have grape juice for the Lord’s Supper! Nice try. We can argue about what “fruit of the vine” means later, but that is an argument about outward elements, not mode. We all agree water is the outward element in baptism (please tell me we all agree on that!). But the issue in this post is mode. The equivalent of “be baptized” in baptism is “take and eat” in the Lord’s Supper. Do you think Jesus cares whether you actually put elements in your mouth and swallow in Communion? Then you should equally care whether you are immersed or washed or sprinkled.
To not care about the mode of baptism is like saying “I’m going for a run” and then walking, or “I’m going to kiss my wife” and then shake her hand. To not care about the mode of baptism is to not care about what baptism is. And if you do not care about what it is, it is probably because you do not care enough about what it means.
Thankfully, there are probably millions of believers who do not care much about anything I’m talking about here, yet because of God’s grace, will receive all the benefits of the Son, and baptism, through their faith in Him.