Category Archives: What does “Reformed” mean?

Baptism of children, part 11

This is the conclusion to this series. I don’t think any of this series is earth-shattering at all. But I do think many of these issues are taken for granted in many churches, and where these issues are taken for granted, you can be sure that there are more people who do certain things for the wrong reasons. And that includes baptism.

I also think many churches simply disagree with some of these posts. And where that happens, you can be sure that there are false professions of faith.

All these posts taken together are meant to paint a picture of a faithful, Reformed church. And in that context, you can have much more confidence that the profession of faith of younger children are true professions than in non-Reformed churches.

The last reason you can have more confidence of any profession of faith in a Reformed church context is because of the Reformed tradition’s emphasis on theologically rich worship. You have been hiding under a rock or have had your head stuck in the sand if you have not noticed the broader evangelical church’s trend toward theologically-lite worship. In my opinion, light theology is a contradiction to pure worship.

One example: one of the most popular Christian songs in recent years is a song that talks about God having “reckless love.” And everyone goes back and forth on whether that is a valid description of God’s love. READ SOME THEOLOGY, PEOPLE! There is a reason the Christian church has never used any words that communicate what “reckless” communicates. You want to say “merciful” or “unbelievable” or “unfathomable” or “powerful”– awesome. But sound theology does not allow us to uphold the thought that there is anything “reckless” in God, much less His love (by the way “God is love”; to call His love “reckless” is to say “God is reckless”– may God have mercy).

The desire to use a word like “reckless” in worship is because of a desire to be poetic in combination with a desire to be catchy and a desire to communicate one truth at the expense of other truths. That is a toxic combination. And it is, by definition, immature theology.

Rich theology in worship means a worship gathering will involve lots of Scripture reading, weighty prayers, songs that dive deep into the riches of God’s Word, and preaching that will always challenge every soul to grow (in other words, preaching always has to be above people’s heads on some level–always). Imagine a seven year old sitting through that kind of worship for three years– the weight of God’s glory and the unsearchable riches of Christ being pressed upon their soul week in and week out– and at the end of three years they say, “I want to follow Jesus!”

We in Hawaii are always relatively near water. What prevents them from being baptized?

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Baptism of Children, part 10

We can be confident that a young person professing faith in a Reformed church has a credible profession because of the Reformed tradition’s emphasis on family worship. I don’t know about you, but I never heard of the term “family worship” until I went to seminary. Not that it was an absolutely foreign concept, but surely a foreign term, and undoubtedly an un-emphasized practice. As much as I love my dad, and am thankful for the way God used him to lead me to Christ, I know he did not lead us in family worship as he ought to.

But that’s because we never grew up in a Reformed church!!! The Westminster Assembly actually wrote up a document called “the Directory for Family Worship” in the 1600’s. And it is gold! Read it when you can.

Family worship helps our children see that Jesus is Lord everyday, not just on Sunday mornings. It helps them get used to sitting and being reverent and behaving and listening to the Word of God. You can also use the time to teach children theological concepts that will help them to engage better on Sunday mornings, as well as practice reading and praying out loud. In short, the more ministry of the Word happens in our homes, the more the ministry of the Word on Sundays is supported, and the more exposure there is to the means of God’s grace to convert sinners.

If the only time our children are engaging in worship is Sunday morning, it is still possible for them to be converted. That’s how powerful the Word of God is. But I am less confident in a child’s profession in those cases. But where Christ rules in the home as well, we can be sure the Spirit of God will work in the way He says He will (Romans 10.13-17, 1 Peter 1.3-25). And if a child sits under the serious ministry of the Word week in and week out, and sits under a similar ministry of the Word day in and day out, is it so surprising if they want to follow the Lord Jesus in baptism?

Baptism of Children, part 9

You can be confident about a child’s profession of faith in a Reformed church because of the Reformed Tradition’s emphasis on children in worship. I don’t care what kind of revisionist history you come up with, if you grew up in the late 20th century or the first decade of the 21st, unless you were in a Reformed church, you did not think much about this issue.

I am thankful for the Family-Integrated Church movement. Though I disagree with them on several things, they did help me in particular to think about this issue when I had not been doing so before. And what I found out was that the Reformed tradition has always believed children of all ages should be involved in corporate worship.

The biblical evidence is overwhelming for children (even infants!) being involved in corporate worship: Exodus 12.1-28, Deuteronomy 4.9-11, Deuteronomy 6.1-9, Deuteronomy 31.9-13, Psalm 78, Ezra 10.1, Nehemiah 12.43, Joel 2.12-17, Acts 2.42, Acts 16.33, Ephesians 6.1-3.

What you most definitely will not find in the Bible is any teaching on “Make sure you get the children away from the room when the sermon starts!”

I’m not saying there is not some wiggle room for freedom. I’m not saying this is easy. I’m not saying I have it all figured out.

I am saying that Christians should teach their children to worship God and listen to the preaching of the Word. It takes training and hard work and discipline and prayer. But if a 7 year old has sat under the preaching of the Word for almost 5 years, has seen the preacher’s pleas, has heard the songs and prayers of the saints, has become acquainted with the creeds and confessions and catechisms of the Church, has seen the Lord’s Supper observed each week, and week by week, month by month, year by year, has grasped a little bit more of who God is, what sin is, who Jesus is, and how we can be saved– is it really that surprising they may express faith, and that faith be real?

Baptism of Children, part 8

In a Reformed church, we can be fairly confident that a child who desires baptism is desiring it for the right reasons because of the Reformed tradition’s emphasis on a serious and explicit church membership. This is actually completely overlapping with the emphasis on the Lord’s Supper, but because there really is more to church membership than participating in Communion, it is worth pointing out.

Church membership is really the meaning of church discipline. The Reformers all saw the right preaching and the right administration of the Sacraments as the marks of a true church. They mostly all saw church discipline as the third mark.

Church membership is an area in which I would say Baptists in particular (and even more particularly, Reformed Baptists) have made the greatest contribution in the Reformed tradition. We believe God marks the Church off from the world. There is a “who is” and “who is not” when it comes to the church.

The Church is marked by a confession of faith in Jesus as Lord, marked by regeneration, marked by fruit of the Spirit, marked by forgiveness of sins, marked by holiness, marked by all kinds of evidences of grace. The church is the workmanship of Christ Jesus who walks in good works. The church is the household of God.

And the world is not marked by those things.

This is the main reason I have settled on the Baptist position versus the Presbyterian position (and I think I like more Presbyterian preachers than Baptist preachers)- but we believe every single person we baptize has all those things in the previous full paragraph. In that way, baptism is God’s way of marking off His people from the world through the hands of the Church.

So if every single week we are teaching that the church is a defined people (as defined above), and if you’re not a part of the church you are going to hell (which is what not having all those things means), and in light of all that a child says they want to obey Jesus as Lord in baptism, how strange to tell them “not yet.”*

*I hope at this point it is clear that if your church is not being clear about all these doctrines, then even I might tell the child “not yet”

Baptism of Children, part 7

We can be confident in a Reformed church about a child’s profession of faith because of the Reformed tradition’s emphasis on a careful administration of the Lord’s Supper. Any church that makes clear that the Lord’s Supper is for believers and only for believers is way ahead of the ballgame in the evangelical world.

I remember visiting a mega-church once (I do not remember the occasion, we must have had a friend doing something during their service). And not that every mega-church is like this, but this experience was eye opening because I thought of this mega-church in particular as pretty faithful. We were late to service and were about to open one of the 20 doors to enter the auditorium, but one of the ushers carrying the Lord’s Supper elements came bursting out, as about 19 other ushers came out the other doors. They had just got done serving the Lord’s Supper inside. And just as we were passing each other the first thing out of his mouth was, “hello, you want communion?”

Thankfully, we declined (not even having as much clarity on this issue back then as we do now). Without us having been in the room when the explanation for Communion happened, without ever having met us before, without any explanation to us about how to revere the Lord’s Table, we were offered bread and juice as if, in the words of a preacher I just heard, this was just “church snack time.”

Paul says to the Corinthians, because of the way they were unloving towards each other during Communion, “it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat.” It is possible to mess up Communion so badly, that it is not even Communion with Christ anymore!

By God’s grace, Reformed churches have consistently tried to “fence the Table,” promote the Table as a real means of grace, and explain how those who take it in an unworthy manner are living like unbelievers, and are worthy of death. It helps to guard against any child possibly only wanting to get baptized because they want to participate in “church snack time.”

And yes, you might fence the Table properly each week, and a kid might just ignore it and still desire baptism for the wrong reasons. But is that not possible for any human being?

The flip side is: if you call people to come to Christ each week, and call Christians to the Table each week, and make unbelievers feel like they are outsiders because they are not welcome to the Table each week, and a child in your church who hears the gospel, is convicted of their sin, and wants to commune with Christ in that way comes to you and says, “I want to follow Jesus in baptism,” how odd to say “let’s wait.”

Baptism of children, part 6

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).

Baptism of children, part 5

When a young child in a Reformed church desires baptism, you can have more confidence it is prompted by the Holy Spirit than in any other type of church. The main reason is because of the Reformed tradition’s emphasis on the right preaching of the gospel every Sunday.

I have heard so many testimonies of people who got baptized early in life, but when they got older they finally understood the gospel, and then got baptized for real. Because of that common “testimony,” it causes many good Christians to be hesitant to encourage their child if their child desires baptism.

But there’s a huge difference between a child in a Reformed church desiring baptism versus a child in a broadly, evangelical church desiring baptism. That main difference is the gospel!!! It is totally possible to go to church for years in America, and never hear the gospel.

I’m in the middle of a Facebook debate with a few people about the need to trumpet the doctrine of sin. And these are professing Christians! If there are professing Christians who do not think the doctrine of sin is that important, you can be sure the gospel is not that clear to many professing Christians.

But it is so different in a Reformed church! Every sermon, every prayer, every song, every Communion– it’s all gospel-centered! Especially in preaching- every sermon in a Reformed church is supposed to show man how they have broken God’s Law, and how Jesus Christ solves that problem in His saving work. Every sermon is somehow showing how Jesus has fulfilled some promise of God to His people. Every sermon, children are hearing how Jesus is the only way to salvation. Every sermon they are being told “you are a sinner– here’s how you have sinned. Here’s what you deserve for that. But now here is who Jesus is. Here is what He has done! And now, repent and be baptized in response to that. Do you believe? Then repent and be baptized.”

They hear that in some way, shape, or form week by week, month by month. They see a minister of the gospel up front give that message, they hear the pleas, they can see the urgency in his face. On top of that, we know that preaching is precisely what the Holy Spirit uses to save (Romans 10.13-17)! Is it any wonder that a child hearing Reformed preaching on a regular basis will desire baptism?