Irenaeus on Baptism

For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean, by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgressions; being spiritually regenerated as new-born babes, even as the Lord has declared: “Except a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

 Fragment 34, Ante-Nicene Fathers 01, Philip Schaff (ed.), Grand Rapids: ccel, p.1428

Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 130-202), a disciple of Polycarp (a disciple of the Apostle John) is used by both supporters of infant baptism and believers’ baptism.  This quote from a fragment of his writing seems to lean towards the latter, linking salvation to both faith and baptism.  Of course it isn’t conclusive as it could be argued Irenaeus is speaking of faith as confirmation of a baptism performed earlier in life.  Interestingly, Irenaeus is among the earliest Christian writers to be born to Christian parents.  Unfortunately the details of his baptism are not known.  Several other major writers known to have been born to Christian parents are known to have been baptized later in life (Augustine, Ambrose, Basil & his brother Gregory of Nyssa,  & Gregory Nanzianzen- whose father was a Bishop).

While we can’t confirm his position like we can for other Church Fathers, Irenaeus is one of the earliest to mention baptism, and he seems to be among those who combine baptism with faith and repentance.

Karl Barth on Baptism

I was surprised to find out yesterday that the Swiss theologian Karl Barth, in spite of his participation in the Reformed Church tradition rejected paedobaptism.  Here’s one interesting quote:

Baptism without the willingness and readiness of the baptized is true, effectual and effective baptism, but it is not correct; it is not done in obedience, it is not administered according to proper order, and therefore it is necessarily clouded baptism. It must and ought not to be repeated. It is, however, a wound in the body of the Church and a weakness for the baptized, which can certainly be cured but which are so dangerous that another question presents itself to the Church: how long is she prepared to be guilty of the occasioning of this wounding and weakening through a baptismal practice which is, from this standpoint, arbitrary and despotic?

We have in mind here the custom of the baptism of children, or more exactly thebaptismus infantium . . .

Perhaps the chasm between the Reformed folks and us credobaptists is not as wide as we sometimes make it out to be.  But as I am on an intellectual quest to track the practice of paedobaptism and credobaptism through the theological greats, this discovery is quite intriguing.

So, I figure as my research continues you can count on some of the mind-blowing quotes in favour of credobaptism I’ve discovered already, some from very unlikely sources.

Orthodox and Baptists

Exactly one week after my post on my fascination with Eastern Orthodoxy, I came across a Baptist World Alliance communication release regarding a meeting between the BWA and the Patriarchate of Constantinople, a meeting which concluded around the time I was writing that post.  Here’s the full text of that release:

Washington, DC (BWA)– Teams representing the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople held exploratory talks on the island of Crete that could lead to the commencement of formal international dialogue between Baptist and Orthodox Christians.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate enjoys the status of “first among equals” among Eastern Orthodox prelates, and is widely regarded as the representative and spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians.

The two teams, which met from October 30 to November 2, reviewed earlier discussions between the BWA and the Orthodox Church and proposed that any international dialogue should be aimed, among other things, at increasing mutual understanding and knowledge of each other; the exploring of a common witness to the world; and the encouragement of common action on ethical and moral issues.

“The aim of the Baptist-Orthodox dialogue is to respond to the Lord’s prayer to his Father for his disciples ‘that they may all be one … that the world may believe’ (John 17:21),” said BWA General Secretary Neville Callam, who led the BWA delegation.  “Facing this challenge today, we believe that we should continue to explore our common ground in biblical teaching, apostolic faith and tradition as well as practical Christian witness, together with our remaining differences.”

Callam expressed the hope that Baptists and Orthodox will be able to commit to as wide a dialogue as possible, in truth, love, mutual respect and transparency.

Participants left the meeting with the understanding that the Ecumenical Patriarch would examine the proposal developed by the Crete meeting and determine whether to remit it to the Orthodox Churches with a view to securing their participation in the proposed Baptist/Orthodox international dialogue.

The delegations shared fellowship with the Orthodox community in Crete as guests of His Eminence Archbishop Irenaos of Crete.

Members of the BWA team were Callam; Steven Harmon, adjunct professor of Christian Theology at Gardner-Webb University School of Divinity in the state of North Carolina in the United States; and Paul Fiddes, professor of Systematic Theology at Oxford University in the United Kingdom.

The Orthodox team comprised Gennadios of Sassima of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and professor of Orthodox theology and canon law; George Tsetsis, a former permanent representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the World Council of Churches; and Konstantinos Kenanidis, general director of the Orthodox Academy of Crete.

It is expected that a decision on whether formal dialogue will take place will be made by March 2012.

The release was posted here.

Obviously it would take something HUGE to bring these two groups into a close working relationship, but to have leaders at least talking is so warming to my heart.

Orthodoxy

One of my long standing areas of interests is Eastern Orthodoxy.  Sparked many moons ago in a course at Redeemer University College, I have continued in fascination for these many years.  I was thrilled while at McMaster Divinity College we were given the assignment for Church History class to attend an Eastern Orthodox service.  Having already done so in the past, I was looking forward to “skipping” church to be part of a worship service in the Orthodox tradition- worship which embraces beauty, tradition, wonder, awe and experiential grace.

I think part of the reason I find it so fascinating is that I find myself in a place of tension.  I adamantly disagree with large chunks of their doctrinal positions (paedobaptism, praying to saints, among other issues).  But then when I read the spiritual side, I am floored.  The intimacy of the Holy Spirit and worship which is engaging of the whole self blows my Western trained mind.  Outside of Scripture, the book which has most informed my spiritual development is Kallistos Ware’s The Orthodox Way, which outlines the basic views and practice of Orthodoxy.  Particularly appealing is the chapter called “God as Mystery” which outlines the tension of a God transcendent yet imminent, omnipotent yet tender.  Ware writes, “We see that it is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery.” (Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way.  Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003, 14).  Further,

God is not the conclusion to a process of reasoning, the solution to a mathematical problem.  To believe in God is not to accept the possibility of his existence because it has been “proved” to us by some theoretical argument, but to put our trust in One whom we know and love.  Faith is not the supposition that something might be true, but the assurance that someone is there.  (Ibid. 16)

While I hope that few protestants would find this objectionable, my struggle is the fact that Protestantism rose up alongside the rise of rationalism, and so we have this Westernized approach of making all things about the intellect.  Am I an anti-intellectual?  No, absolutely not.  I love study.  But I find it drab, boring and dull if it is not rooted in something tangible.  A gospel which is an idea to receive my intellectual assent, or perhaps the sum total of doctrines I must adhere to does not appeal to me- and I find it dangerous.  If the gospel is rooted in doctrine(s), then salvation rests on being on the right team, thinking the right stuff, and given Christians inability to find consensus, and our propensity for schism and anathematizing, I would fracture psychologically pondering whether I had the right doctrine or if the other guys were right and heaven and hell rested solely on this decision.  I find comfort in knowing that my doctrine will always fall short, but my salvation rest on God’s character and my trust in that.  There needs to be a place for Holy Mystery.  Where we throw up our arms and say, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).  We won’t “get” God intellectually.  As Evagrius of Pontus writes, “God cannot be grasped by the mind.  If he could be grasped, he would not be God.”  The Orthodox apophatic approach to theology can be helpful- the idea that the human mind and language cannot fathom or describe God meaning we must then understanding that anything we proclaim about God is simply insufficient (negation to a positive effect).  Of course, the Orthodox are without their own doctrinal debates and conflicts, but out of that has developed this understanding that even correct doctrine can only get us so far.  God’s grace which extends down in revelation and experience, which is completely mysterious, is that which we can rest in.

Similarly, worship which consists of sing a few hymns, take up the offering hear a sermon, sing a song go home can get old very quickly.  Orthodoxy when done poorly can be just as mechanized, some would argue even moreso.  But when authentically lived out, Orthodox spirituality engages the mind while still being mystically oriented- we can experience and think about a God who is beyond us.  Our worship “box”- the framework in which we feel at home can actually be limiting.  The Orthodox liturgy may look mechanized or like vain superstitious repetition, but they understand each celebration of the liturgy to be an avenue for real grace- the actual worship of God is not the liturgy itself, but worship goes beyond- mystic union of the church universal gathering in recognition of the God who is outside time and space.  Us baptists may affirm it in word, but seldom do we operate on that assumption.  We simply do what we do because we get it.

I am a Baptist.  There’s no way around that.  But I have a love-hate relationship with my own denominational identity.  My perspectives on baptism (more to come on that one- as I’m embroiled in some cool reading on Baptism in the early church), the priesthood of all believers, among other doctrinal issues leave me solidly within the Baptist community.  However, I struggle at times, feeling like our doctrines don’t flow where they should, and don’t allow room for Holy Mystery, for authority of the called and gifted, and for a faith which rightly engages the mind and the spirit.

Luckily though, I’m also a Canadian and can, when necessary, play the fence, and enjoy the best of both.

The Visionary*, article: Fall issue

 “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; 
   wisdom and power are his. 
He changes times and seasons; 
   he deposes kings and raises up others. 
He gives wisdom to the wise 
   and knowledge to the discerning. 
He reveals deep and hidden things; 
   he knows what lies in darkness, 
   and light dwells with him. ” ~Daniel 2:20-22

Autumn has always been my favourite season. The moderate temperature, the new colours, Thanksgiving dinner, and there is a certain feel of peace and beauty in the air. Also, it has become a special time for my family, as October now boasts my wife’s birthday, our anniversary, and most recently, the birthday of our beautiful daughter Karyss. It’s a time of celebration and joy in our household.

The scriptures tell us that the seasons are assigned by God as regular markers of our years and experiences. All seasonal changes have their own inherent beauty, as the author of Ecclesiastes tells us, “He has made everything beautifulin its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (Eccl. 3:11). But of all the seasonal transitions, autumn is probably the most dramatic- in the visual sense- but it’s a beauty which comes from death, and end. Yet we celebrate. The end of the growing season means the harvest is ready. The end of the leaves ability to grow means the beginning of the fall colours. The end of my bachelorhood meant the beginning of my wonderful new life. The end of my days of regular sleep means the beginning of a beautiful blessed life of parenthood. Endings and beginnings typically come together, blessings and challenges are always both on the horizons.

This autumn has been a special one for us. Many things ended, but God has breathed life into us. God is always creating, making beauty, and raising up life from the ashes. Often the difference between worshippers of God and those who are ambivalent, is that worshippers see God- the unchanging eternal artist, whereas others see leaves to rake and the inevitability of snow and cold. A good parent sees the beauty of and blessing of the experience of the creation of life- whereas some would simply see sleepless nights, dirty diapers and the cost of bringing up children. Challenges should not dissuade us away from our pursuit of beauty. Appreciate the beauty always.

Friends, be encouraged this season. God is always pouring out new life. God is by nature and creator, always moving to bring newness and regeneration. The snow is coming. But it too shall pass. As Bruce Cockburn sang, “gotta kick at the darkness ‘til it bleeds daylight”. Celebrate the light and find in the darkness the hope of the light to come. As the prophet recorded, “he changes times and seasons… he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.”

*The Visionary is the Newsletter of Centre Street Baptist Church

Sukkot Blessing

Sundown tonight marks the beginning of Sukkot the Jewish Festival of Booths (Tabernacles), marking the forty years of wandering in the dessert.

33 The LORD said to Moses, 34 “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the fifteenth day of the seventh month the LORD’s Festival of Tabernacles begins, and it lasts for seven days. 35 The first day is a sacred assembly; do no regular work. 36 For seven days present food offerings to the LORD, and on the eighth day hold a sacred assembly and present a food offering to the LORD. It is the closing special assembly; do no regular work. (Leviticus 23:33-36)

According to Deuteronomy 16:16, all men were to go to one designated place of worship three times a year; Passover, the Festival of Weeks, and Sukkot.  The Community of Faith was called together to recognize the salvation of God regularly.  It was also every seventh Sukkot that the cancelling of debts was to be observed.  I wonder if the National Student Loan Service Centre would take this seriously?  Not likely.

But I’ve always wondered why Christians can’t take the Old Testament festivals and other Jewish celebrations seriously.  I’m not suggesting we must or even should practice these things (if we aren’t Jewish, these observances are not “ours”), but maybe it’s at least worth being knowledgeable about these things, and they shaped the earliest Christians.  If we lose the connection to our roots, we lose something of our faith, I think.  Part of my intro to Hebrew class curriculum was celebrating a Passover together, and it was a really blessed experience.

For most of us, Sukkot would probably be the most difficult to observe fully- the inconvenience of living in a booth for a week, and doing a week-long Sabbath is not congruent with the Western lifestyle.  But that’s kind of the point- get out of the routine to understand the wondrous power of God to work for the redemption of his people.  Our Jewish friends consider Sukkot a blessing and a time of joy, recognizing what God has done, not just long ago, but also Sukkot is also a recognition of harvest and provision from God- interesting that it falls right after thanksgiving this year.  It’s worth contemplating and reflecting on.

Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of all, for giving us life, sustaining us and enabling us to reach this season. (Part of the Kiddush for Sukkot)

Bent or broken?

I sat in on a bible study yesterday which was working through Genesis 3, and I began thinking about some deeply held theological beliefs which stream largely from this passage, but sometimes bother me.  Whether people believe in the historical veracity of the events of Genesis or not, the typical conclusion is that Genesis 3 points out that mankind’s sinfulness has severed the relationship between us and God.  As the discussion progressed we got into a little bit of original sin, and total depravity and all that fun stuff.  But the conclusion of many of the saints is that the relationship with God is broken by sin, and only in Jesus are people able to have a relationship with God.

But part of me wonders, wait, Cain and Abel were still able to commune with God, as were all the Old Testament saints.  If the relationship was broken in such a way that only in Jesus can we connect, then the Old Testament ceases to make sense.  Does sin have catastrophic effects?  Absolutely.  But, at the risk of sounding like a heretic, the relationship is not severed as a direct consequence of sin.  Those who have no relationship are in that state not because original sin prevents them, but because the sinfulness leads them to ignore the possibilities they have.  Total depravity does not mean that mankind is completely cut off, but that all of mankind is affected and tainted by sin.

Salvation, I am proposing is not an issue of sinful man being “blocked” from God by sinfulness.  Why would “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Ex. 34:6-7a) allow sin to blockade man away from himself.  The chasm between God and man has to do with man’s preference for ignorance than an actual inherited effect of the first sin of mankind.  People choose to ignore God, even though he is always available.

Salvation, then, is something bigger, deeper, and more wonderful than just a removal of sin so we can relate to God (while sin does indeed hinder us in our pursuit of God, and in Christ we have atonement and forgiveness- I don’t deny this).  Salvation is a total transformation of creation.  A new relationship, not just bringing back the old.  It is bringing a shared life between God and mankind. It is the Kingdom of God penetrating people’s hearts and minds to free them from the ignorance they once held so close.  Salvation is about freedom; not just from from something, but also freedom for something- “that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10, ESV) or as The Message renders it, “so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

Inspiration comes from the weirdest places…

My daughter is fast approaching that wonderful time in the journey of life; this weekend, we bought her a potty.  This really doesn’t seem like “church” talk or the subject matter for a “spiritual reflection” or whatever you want to call a pastoral blog post.  But it got me thinking about a lot of things.  Mainly, it brought to an analogy used in three different New Testament authors, Paul, Peter and the author of Hebrews.

From Paul (1 Corinthians 3:1-2);

1 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.

From Peter (1 Peter 2:1-3);

1 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 2Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

And from the anonymous author (Hebrews 5:11-14);

11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

These three passages all say basically the same thing- there is a maturation process when it comes to faith.  One of the weaknesses of evangelicalism (in my opinion) is the poor understanding of this process.  We sometimes assume that we “win souls” and conversion is the victory.  But there is so much more to be done in the life of a new convert.  In fact, new converts are very likely to struggle.  The basic functions need to be sorted out.  There is a process of spiritual potty training.  Almost two years after being born, my daughter is still not quite ready to begin what is so basic for an adult.

One conversation  I had recently gives this idea a new dimension.  One pastor in town of a missional, contemporary, cutting edge church articulated the struggle of having a congregation comprised mainly of “baby” christians- those new to discipleship.  The ministry of that church is challenging in that there is much passion, enthusiasm and ideas, but a lack of maturity, stability and know how.  We never want to stifle that passion as many churches have, carving out christians who have the scriptures cover to cover, but have not developed the skills to apply it.  Learning by doing is perhaps a better approach.  Instead of instructing a toddler on the concepts of the potty, it’s typically better for them to learn by trying it out.  Jesus sent out his disciples on missions early on (see Luke 10), and they learned by walking with Jesus, seeing how it was done, and doing it.

I think we need a new understanding of discipleship, and renewed sense of growing up as Christians- a new emphasis on mentoring.  Being a christian is not a static ontological existence, but a process, a life, a journey.  We actually have to do stuff (not just fill our heads with stuff) to be disciples, and we have to start with the most basic functions; learning first to eat, walk, talk and even to use the potty, before we move on the more complex tasks.

“Here below, to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”  John Henry Newman (1801-1890).

Christian Canada?

Last week I picked up a copy of Mark Noll’s What Happened to Christian Canada?, a short read which examines the circumstances surrounding the trend towards secularization in Canada in the second half of the 20th century.  While it’s no secret at all that Church attendance in on the decline in Canada, and has been for some time, several questions came to mind while I read, like; does high church attendence (Canada in 1950 had better church attendence numbers than the US and Quebec was among the highest in the world) equal a Christian society?; do low numbers indicate Christianity is no longer influencing?; is there even such a thing as a christian society?

The last of these questions is probably the one I pondered the most.  What is a Christian country?  70 years ago the majority of Canadians went to church regularly, even took part in other activities like bible studies, sunday schools, and other charitable work.  But does this make society “christian”?  In Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell suggests that Christian is great as a noun, but not as an adjective.  In other words people can be Christian, but how does music, politics, education, culture become christian?  Is the U.S. christian because it enshrines God in the constitution?

In Matthew 13, Jesus tells the parable of the weeds:

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’

The Kingdom of God is something which operates alongside that which is not of the Kingdom.  Jesus compares the Kingdom to yeast being worked through the dough (Mt. 13:33).  At what point do we decide to call a nation entirely penetrated by the gospel in such a way that we can call it collectively “Christian”?  In other words, is Christendom a valid expression of the christian faith;  can we see the gospel permeating the structures of society and culture in such a way that it is distinctively different from everything else?  Post-Constantinian Europe saw many attempts to create Christian nations and Empires, which looked remarkably similar to all other nations and Empires.  What I understand to be the message of the Kingdom of God is that it bring renewal of all of life and reconciliation to mankind from God.  Jesus is more subversive than to just upend a political system and purge the old ways and put in a new whitewashed system on top (see Jesus’ perspecitve on Pharisaic application of Torah in Matthew 23:13-39).  Church attendance is a positive thing, but God is more interested in mercy, justice, transformation.  I would suggest that the Kingdom is no more or less present now than in ages past.

Of course all of this has little to do with the actual content of the book (that will have to wait for another post), just a question sparked by the opening pages in which Noll begins “with the assumption that there once was a Christian Canada which is now gone”.  Noll does not really dive into the question of the possibility of christian nationhood, but stays within the framework of social and political changes in Canada away from traditionally held christian values towards an open, secular, welfare state.