Monday, May 26, 2014

Baptism: All About That Watery Grave

Many of you know I was born and raised in Churches of Christ, some may not. If you know Churches of Christ at all, you likely know two things: you generally don't see instruments and there's a heavy emphasis on baptism. The importance of the first is slowly dwindling as years go by. The second one has stayed more consistent though, and has stirred a good number of conversations in my life. So, that's what I want to talk about for a bit. I will say that I've come a long way in my views of baptism and so maybe this will be a helpful read for you, despite the denomination you come from. 

I'll go ahead and whip out the old phrase that people generally use against Churches of Christ - "They think you have to be baptized to be saved!" 

Let's pick that apart a bit. The first way people sometimes take that is that baptism saves you. Some in Churches of Christ may think that...but it's not true...and most of us don't actually think that. Everybody knows that Jesus saves people. I was immersed in water PLENTY of times at church camp, mainly by much larger kids in the pool area. Baptism apart from Jesus is absolutely pointless. 

So, let's play with that statement a little bit. We do not think baptism is how a person is saved as much as when a person is saved. That is a much more accurate representation of most people in Churches of Christ. Honestly, this makes a lot of sense to me, and I'll tell you why. The language and metaphor surrounding baptism just point to it. It is at this point in time that we are said to reenact Christ's death and resurrection, dying to our sins and being raised up in newness of life (Romans 6:3-7). Many biblical authors also point to baptism as the point that one comes into contact with the blood of Christ which washes us clean of iniquity. Go and search baptism for yourself and look at the metaphor and language surrounding it. Alot of the time, it's these images and transportation language, going from one thing to another like in Galatians 3:27 when it discusses being clothed with Christ. 

Now, many jump on that and say "hey, baptism is a work and we can't be saved by works." On one level they are right, and on another I feel there is some misunderstanding. I'll reiterate - NOTHING saves you but Jesus. However, we have a part somewhere in this whole thing. There is a level of obedience in everybody's theology. The Sinner's Prayer is something we do. Repentance is something we do. Believing is something we do. Accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior is something we do. Baptism is in fact one of the most passive acts of obedience. You are baptized (passive), raised up in newness of life (passive) and cleansed by Jesus's blood (passive). Obedience on any level is a response to what Jesus did for us on the cross. The Sermon on the Mount makes it pretty apparent that Jesus demands some obedience of us, so I'm not sure why people get hung up on "works." After all, NOTHING saves you but Jesus, but what if He cleanses you and raises you up from that watery grave where your sins are put to death?

Now, some of you are still thinking "I'm not saying I don't believe in baptism, my church does that, I just was never taught that it was the point of salvation. If I get baptized at a later date during a group baptism or whatever would that still count?" 

As far my personal stance, I've already stated why I see baptism as so important. It's the language surrounding it. Also, read Acts. There is an immediate response from people to be baptized. It is often said that people received the gift of the Holy Spirit in accompaniment to it (and then gifts being associated with the laying on of hands by the apostles). Now, there are exceptions to this, but it's the general pattern laid out. 

However, this is where I'd like to address some of my own brethren. Shall we limit or comprehend God's grace? I do not believe we can comprehend it, nor should we ever try to limit it. 

Alexander Campbell once stated that he would call any person trying to follow Christ a Christian, something I very much agree with. After writing this, he received a letter from a lady asking if he believe that baptism was necessary for salvation. He replied that he did. At this point, she asked him how he could call those who did not practice baptism in exactly the scriptural way a true Christian. His reply was that while he would always teach what he saw as the most scripturally evident means of baptism, how could he possibly limit God's grace by saying it could only be done in one particular way? After all, do you honestly think you get every little piece of the Bible right? We strive for the most scriptural, Christlike way, but nevertheless we are human and we will fall short. So, he stated that the only people he truly worried for were those who despised baptism as a practice. 

In my life, I agree with that. I very much see the necessity and pattern set forth for the practice of baptism and will always teach that. However, if you are truly following Jesus with all your life and you have not completely neglected baptism as a practice, I will call you brother or sister. 

In all reality, this is inclusive to most folks. Prettttttty much everybody practices baptism is one way or another. Not many (hopefully) truly are just like "heck with that piece of crap work, we're just gonna believe and think happy thoughts."  

Now, there will always be the people that just try to throw a wrench in things. Example, what about the criminal on the cross? Well, Jesus is pretty cool and He pretty much has the authority to do that. Remember though, we are asked to participate in His death and resurrection by the apostles. What about the gentiles who received the Holy Spirit without baptism (Acts 10)? Well, there was some pretty crazy stuff happening around that time. People were getting struck dead (Ananias and Sapphira) and all kinds of stuff that would make the church today audibly say "whoa." It's the more general pattern set for the church that should be examined, not rare happenstances. What if a person is going to get baptized and they are in a car accident on their way to church? C'MON!!!! Now you're just being adverse. You will rarely run into a person who believes that God's grace isn't big enough to cover things when something absolutely terrible happens. That doesn't mean the concept is something to be ignored. 

Overall, go read up on it. Read Acts (there's a lot of good stuff in there) and see what the general pattern is. Note the language surrounding the event. Do some study. Be inquisitive. 

However, I'll end this post by telling you to always remember: There is NOTHING that can save you but Jesus Christ. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

God's Plan?

Recently I've heard people talking about tragedy and how it relates to "God's plan." It goes something like this, "I know [tragedy] happened but I also know that it's part of God's plan."

If I may be so bold, I'd like to address this by saying - No it's not. 

Many of you know my life story, many of you don't. My father died just before I was two years old and my mom was pregnant with my younger sister. Talk about getting your world rocked. Subsequently, I've dealt with a number of other losses of people I know and love. All throughout my life I've seen people leave this earth in less than pleasant ways, sometimes way sooner than is normal. People try to comfort those who have lost by saying stuff like "It's part of God's plan," "God must have needed another angel," and the like. 

Quite frankly, that's bullcrap. 

My personal understanding of God's providence does not include God taking my father in a car crash while my mother, unborn sister, and myself were left without a person to fill such a vital role. It is not God's plan for people to get cancer, suffer terribly, and die early. It's simply not. Now, I don't just think this because the idea of God causing these things is troublesome to me, I think this because the Bible informs me so. 

Let's start at the beginning. In Eden, we see God's real plan for humanity. Perfection. Shalom - nothing is missing, nothing is broken. That is God's plan. Unfortunately, we messed that up and we now live in a fallen world due to sin. Now, God can make anything beautiful out of what is ugly. So, when we did sin and fall, He made a way for us to come back into relationship with Him. However, it was not His intention for us to disobey Him. 

Later on, when the Israelites rebel against God, He punishes them by means of other nations and invasions. The interesting thing is, God always ends up punishing these other nations for the violence they do against Israel as well. So it's saying that God makes Assyria and other nations attack Israel only to punish them for obeying Him? I don't think so. I think that these nations were hungry for expansion, God gives people the will to choose what they do, and so God used an already bloodthirsty nation to fulfill His need to punish Israel. However, it was still that nation's decision. God can make anything work for His glory. 

Think of the countless saints who unfortunately died early in life, but think about the impact that their lives made on this world. Martyrs have inspired others to stronger faith for centuries, and sometimes even when a death is not because of persecution, that person's life makes a huge impact on this world. I saw this most recently with a young man who was in a youth group I worked with. He died due to heart complications one night while running. However, you should have seen the response of others to this. His life was one of such witness and love that he will be inspiring men and women for years to come, despite it being so short due to living in a fallen world where heart conditions and sickness exist.

In my own story, a man came along and became my father when I needed one, and has loved me unconditionally from the day he took on that challenge. 

So is tragedy a part of God's plan? I don't think so. That's the result of living in an imperfect world where Satan still operates today. Did God need another angel? Nope. God doesn't need anyone, although He desires us strongly. Furthermore, we don't become angels. Nowhere in scripture can that idea be found. That is nothing more than commercialized Christianity.

I realize I'm kind of dogging on all those "feel good" things out there and sound a bit like a downer. But stop and think. Would you really rather hold the opinion that God gave someone cancer, or a heart condition, or took my father away in a car accident? 

In all reality, I present this viewpoint in order to give a better understanding of tragedy and pain. Many have left faith because they have blamed God for allowing or even causing such things. I've already stated why I don't think He causes it. In terms of allowing, I present this final thought that I've used before in blogs, but it is so fitting. 

"...Jesus isn't magic. Jesus is human. Jesus is the very incarnation of God; He's God with us - to bring us not magic but accompaniment, not "healing"...but salvation...any healing that is more than a temporary solution - that is, in other words, transformation...demands deep accompaniment. It demands that another enter into my world and bear my suffering, not to magically take it away but to die with me if needed...The cross reveals this Jesus: not a magical one but a suffering one, not a God who takes away pain but a God who joins us in it."

Are there more questions? Yes there are. Do I have all the answers? Not at all.

At the end of the day though, this gives me rest. I know that despite what happens in this life, "precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His faithful servants" (Psalm 116:15) because they no longer have to suffer in this fallen world. God holds them in His hand in a place so much better.   


Root, Andrew, and Kenda C. Dean. The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2011. Print.