The Family

Here’s a piece I wrote for the Illinois Baptist newspaper on the final article in the Baptist Faith & Message on “The Family.”

The Family


Let Us Not Give Up Meeting Together (Heb. 10:25)!

Roman authorities seized Ignatius of Antioch in AD 107. They carried him to the Coliseum where soldiers fed him to wild beasts. His crime? Ignatius refused to turn his back on Christ and burn incense to the emperor. While on the journey to martyrdom he wrote several churches in the region. “Do your best,” he told the church in Ephesus, “to meet more often to give thanks and glory to God. When you meet frequently, the powers of Satan are confounded.”

HT: Aaron Menikoff http://9marks.org/review/book-review-expository-listening-by-ken-ramey/


Historical Evidence and Exegesis

On the question of infant baptism, R.C. Sproul writes [Essential Truths of the Christian Faith (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1992), 228]:

…it would naturally be assumed in the early church that infants were to be given the sign of the covenant.

History bears witness to this assumption.  The first direct mention of infant baptism is around the middle of the second century A.D.  What is noteworthy about this reference is that it assumes infant baptism to be the universal practice of the church.  If infant baptism were not the practice of the first-century church, how and why did this departure from orthodoxy happen so fast and so pervasively?  Not only was the spread rapid and universal, the extant literature from that time does not reflect any controversy concerning the issue.

But Everett Ferguson claims [Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 856]:

There is general agreement that there is no firm evidence for infant baptism before the latter part of the second century.

Who to believe?


The Preacher’s Own Experience Of What He Talks Of

A.W. Tozer said:

It is especially important that Christian ministers know the law of the leader – that he can lead others only as far as he himself has gone…

The minister must experience what he would teach or he will find himself in the impossible position of trying to drive sheep. For this reason he should seek to cultivate his own heart before he attempts to preach to the hearts of others…

If he tries to bring them into a heart knowledge of truth which he has not actually experienced he will surely fail. In his frustration he may attempt to drive them; and scarcely anything is so disheartening as the sight of a vexed and confused shepherd using the lash on his bewildered flock in a vain attempt to persuade them to go beyond the point to which he himself has attained…

We cannot take our people beyond where we ourselves have been, so it becomes vitally important that we be men of God in the last and highest sense of that term.

So true and so challenging.

And yet, wherever we are spiritually we will always feel that we have not yet attained all that we desire. J.I. Packer, in the preface to Knowing God wrote:

I do not ask my readers to suppose that I know very well what I am talking about. ‘Those like myself,’ wrote C.S. Lewis, ‘whose imagination far exceeds their obedience are subject to a just penalty; we easily imagine conditions far higher than any we have really reached. If we describe what we have imagined we may make others, and make ourselves, believe that we have really been there’ – and so fool both them and ourselves.


The Main Meals

From J.I. Packer’s book God Has Spoken: Revelation and the Bible, 3rd. ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), p. 123:

The New Testament pattern is that public preaching of God’s Word provides, so to speak, the main meals, and constitutes the chief means of grace, and one’s own personal meditations on biblical truth should come as ancillary to this, having the nature of a series of supplementary snacks – necessary, indeed, in their place, but never intended to stand alone as a complete diet.  There is something deeply unnatural and unsatisfactory in a situation where the people of God have to rely entirely on personal Bible study for their spiritual nourishment, due to lack of effective expository preaching in public worship.


Don’t Despise the Pulpit

I was looking at my copy of Charles Spurgeon’s autobiography and happened upon this quote at the beginning of the book:


We want again Luthers, Calvins, Bunyans, Whitefields, men fit to mark eras, whose names breathe terror in our foemen’s ears.  We have dire need of such.  Whence will they come to us?  They are the  gifts of Jesus Christ to the Church, and will come in due time.  He has power to give us back again a golden age of preachers, a time as fertile of great divines and mighty ministers as was the Puritan age, and when the good old truth is once more preached by men whose lips are touched as with a live coal from off the altar, this shall be the instrument in the hand of the Spirit for bringing about a great and thorough revival of religion in the land.


I do not look for any other means of converting men beyond the simple preaching of the gospel and the opening of men’s ears to hear it.  The moment the Church of God shall despise the pulpit, God will despise her.  It has been through the ministry that the Lord has always been pleased to revive and bless His Church.


I’m so wearied by all the creative attempts to stem the tide of Christianity’s decline today with some new way of doing church that doesn’t involve preaching.


A Community of Natural Enemies

The reason there are so many exhortations in the New Testament for Christians to love other Christians is because the church itself is not made up of natural ‘friends’. It is made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything of that sort. Christians come together not because they form a natural collocation, but because they have all been saved by Jesus Christ and owe him a common allegiance. In this light we are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake. That is the only reason why John 13.34-35 makes sense when Jesus says: ‘A new command I give you — Love one another as I have loved you…’ Christian love will stand out and bear witness to Jesus because it is a display, for Jesus’ sake, of mutual love among social incompatibles.

from D.A. Carson, Love in Hard Places (Wheaton: Crossway, 2002).


I pray this is seen and experienced at Immanuel Baptist Church!


Which Kind of Baptist Are You?

It is simply not true that Reformed and Baptist can’t go together.  There is a significant stream of Baptist history in line with the magisterial Reformation.  It runs from the Westminster divines to the English Baptists known as ‘Particular Baptists’ who adopted a revised form of the Westminster Confession called the Second London Confession (1689).  This stream was the dominant one feeding the early Baptist movement in America.


However, it is true that not all Baptists are Reformed.  Some in fact, are downright heretical.  It’s true today.  It was true at the beginning of the Baptist movement.  There is a polluted stream that runs through the English Baptists known as ‘General Baptists’ and finds its headwaters at a man named John Smyth (1570-1612).  Timothy George writes in Baptist Confessions, Covenants, and Catechisms (Nashville: B&H, 1999), p. 6:

[Smyth] rejected the classic Reformation doctrines of original sin, election, and justification.  Article Ten of his Short Confession is a clear denial of the doctrine of justification by faith alone.  Indeed, one would be hard pressed to find anything in this article which could not have satisfied the Roman Catholic theologians at the Council of Trent!


That article reads:

10. That the justification of man before the Divine tribunal (which is both the throne of justice and of mercy), consists partly of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ apprehended by faith, and partly of inherent righteousness, in the holy themselves, by the operation of the Holy Spirit, which is called regeneration or sanctification; since any one is righteous, who doeth righteousness.


Don’t be that kind of Baptist!


A Non-Institutional Church? Why Are We So Dumb?

Yesterday was the PLANT Chicago quarterly.  We’ve had some outstanding speakers on important topics this year.  I was really looking forward to hearing Jared Wilson speak on the exclusivity of Christ and I was not disappointed.  I’ve appreciated his clear and compelling points in writing (The Pastor’s Justification is a must read for pastors!) and now I have a taste of his humble and genuine demeanor in person.


Here are a couple of the great quotes Wilson gave us yesterday:

This is why most southerners go to church and most northerners do not – because they’re ‘good’ people.

To reject the church is to reject the gospel because the church is something the gospel has made.

And then going along with that last one he read a longer quote from Eugene Peterson about the institutional church:

What other church is there besides institutional? There’s nobody who doesn’t have problems with the church, because there’s sin in the church. But there’s no other place to be a Christian except the church. There’s sin in the local bank. There’s sin in the grocery stores. I really don’t understand this naive criticism of the institution. I really don’t get it.

Frederick von Hugel said the institution of the church is like the bark on the tree. There’s no life in the bark. It’s dead wood. But it protects the life of the tree within. And the tree grows and grows and grows and grows. If you take the bark off, it’s prone to disease, dehydration, death.

So, yes, the church is dead but it protects something alive. And when you try to have a church without bark, it doesn’t last long. It disappears, gets sick, and it’s prone to all kinds of disease, heresy, and narcissism.

In my writing, I hope to recover a sense of the reality of congregation — what it is. It’s a gift of the Holy Spirit. Why are we always idealizing what the Holy Spirit doesn’t idealize? There’s no idealization of the church in the Bible — none. We’ve got two thousand years of history now. Why are we so dumb?

In all our desire to see a movement of rapid church planting, let us not lose sight of the fact that we’re trying to plant institutional churches, because there really is no other kind.


Lucas, Law, and Gospel

Recently George Lucas was in Chicago for Ideas Week and was interviewed by Charlie Rose. At one point (starting at 32:14) he shares his thoughts on religion:

If you really look at it and you say, ‘Well, most people say: well what’s the difference between a Shi’a and a Sunni? What’s the difference between a Catholic and a Protestant?’ Well, there isn’t any difference. Or, ‘We all believe in the Jewish god.’ But what about the Jewish god and the gods that came before? And the, you know, Buddha’s a little bit different, but in the end if you think of it as one god you say, ‘Well everybody expresses it differently, but it’s still, you know, basically don’t kill people and be compassionate and love people.’

He’s right that all religions are very similar on the law, but how can we do a better job of getting the message out that only Christianity has genuinely good news for those who can’t keep the law perfectly?

2014 Edison Talks: George Lucas from Chicago Ideas Week on Vimeo.


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