Saturday, June 30, 2007

STILL THINKING ON THE BAPTISM ISSUE . . .

Thank you to all of you brothers and sisters who have been praying for us on the issue of the proper subjects of baptism. I just wanted to give you all an update.

We are continuing to take this slowly, but through talking with our elders and thinking and discussing it out more, we still have our doubts about infant baptism. It seems to me that both sides have excellent points to make, and both sides have arguments, and arguments that respond to arguments, and arguments that respond to arguments' arguments, ad infinitum.

Having said that, we are considering dropping the issue. I want to let it sit for a while, but I know that, when a case comes up in a court of law, when true and reasonable doubt is present, the case is dismissed.

Currently, I have true and reasonable doubt about the issue of infant baptism. I have dialogued with paedobaptist friends where they tried to answer these issues. On the surface, the answers seemed to be somewhat satisfactory, but after probing it a bit further, I am still unsure.

When this chapter in our life comes to a close (probably in a couple of months, I hope), I will do a final post on this issue.

Please continue to pray for us. I know that there have been godly men on both sides of this issue in the history of the Church. Our only wish, as I know both credos and paedos wish as well, is to obey God's Word in this area of our life and our childrens' lives.

I also wish to open up my blog for any comments from credo brothers or paedo brothers for fruitful discussion if you wish.

May our Lord continue to guide His Church into all truth.

Monday, June 18, 2007

PLEASE PRAY FOR US

To My Blog Readers:

Please pray for us. I am copying the text of two e-mails I sent out to the elders of our church. I can't believe this is happening. This is a difficult time for us.
____________________________

To Our Spiritual Fathers, the Elders . . . ,

This is an e-mail to ask for help. This is Josh and Angela Brisby, and we wanted to let you know that, over the past couple of years, through baby steps, and through dialogue/debate, we have become more and more convinced of infant baptism. This is hard for me to believe that this is happening, especially because I was Presbyterian for two years before I became Reformed Baptist. However, I am unsure whether I fully understood the paedobaptist position then, nor did I give it a fair chance to respond when I was becoming Baptist.

Yet, this time we have no desire whatsoever to become paedobaptists. We love [this church] , and the last thing we would want to do is to have to change churches. We are asking you to please convince us from Scripture, with reason subservient, that the infant baptism position is incorrect, and to please show us that the Baptist position is correct. We are asking you to rescue us. We love this church, and we want to stay.

Please pray for us as well. This is a very emotional time for us, but even more so for me as the husband and leader. I wept over this yesterday.

In Christ,
Josh and Angela Brisby
________________________________

Brother ______,

To tell you the truth, I think that most paedobaptist literature is not very good. I had recognized some aspects of what I believed in articles by Richard Pratt, and I am currently reading The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism (edited by Gregg Strawbridge). I also read the collection of essays Believer's Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant In Christ, but was not persuaded by most of it (many of the writers wrote from a New Covenant Theology perspective).

Over the years, it has happened as the following:

Shortly after I became Reformed Baptist, I saw problems with the traditional Reformed Baptist view, namely, that only the elect are in the New Covenant in this administration of the covenant of grace. I saw this as problematic from texts such as John 15, Romans 11, 1 Corinthians 5, and the book of Hebrews (particularly Hebrews 10:30). I agree that the covenant of grace, eternally speaking, has always been with the elect only, but in its administration temporally, it has always included both elect and non-elect.

Because of this, I reasoned that I could still stay a Baptist and believe that the covenant had two circles to it: the internal and the external. The internal is those who truly possess saving faith, and the external is all those in the outward administration, that is, those who belong to the visible church. Indeed, that is the way I was for quite a while.

But as years passed, I read an article by Gregg Strawbridge which demonstrated Scripturally that children were in the covenant. Ironically (and thankfully), I am not convinced of paedocommunion (we can discuss later as well why I do not see this as inconsistent), but the article was in The Case for Covenant Communion. I found that if one does a search on the word "children" and ponders God's promises, they are so powerful that indeed, it seems to me that to cut the children out of the covenant would be drastic. But in the New Testament texts, we still see promises made to the children (Acts 2:38ff), and the children are called "holy" as opposed to "unclean." (I am also aware of how Baptists respond to this, and we can discuss why I am not persuaded by their response as well.) Furthermore, when Jesus says that "brephoi" (infants) belong to the kingdom, and then blesses them, that it something that seemed to tug at me. I learned through dialogue with _______ that "blessing" was always looked at in a covenantal context in Holy Scripture. Our Lord blessed them.

I also realized that indeed, both the paedo and the credo position use inference. For example, the Baptist cannot find an example in Scripture of children believing and then being baptized. The only examples of professors who are baptized in Scripture are adults. There are some Baptists who wait until age 18 to baptize (Spurgeon, Dever), but they are few and far between. So Baptists reason that, since it seems that in every case of baptism in the NT, it seems, there was repentance and faith first, and then baptism followed, they therefore conclude that if children repent and believe, they are admitted to the waters of baptism. They conclude this by good and necessary inference, as it were.

But the paedo also concludes by good and necessary inference that children were in the covenant in the OT, and that God nowhere put them out. Circumcision was a sign of entrance into the covenant, and baptism is the sign of entrance into the New Covenant. Therefore, since they see children in the covenant, they conclude, by inference, that children or infants should be baptized.

Both sides agree that the household baptisms are inconclusive, but it seems to me that the "you and your household" principle goes back to the Abrahamic Covenant. Yet this is still spoken to Gentiles (such as the Philippian jailer in Acts 16). In other words, when was the last time that we all have evangelized someone and said to him, knowing he was a family man, that the promise was to him and to his children? Or that if he believes, he and his household will be saved? I confess that I too was uncomfortable with this language, but I sort of brushed it off and put it in the back of my mind.

Finally, I reasoned that, perhaps I could say that infants of believers were members of the church, yet I did not have to baptize them. But I learned as well that both sides agree that baptism is a sign of entrance into the church. I concluded that it would be unwise of me to deny it if I thought that my children were members of the church.

One imporant thing, as we dialogue, I think, is to carefully define our terms. I think especially the term "church" and "covenant" need to be carefully defined, because I think that many times, Baptists unknowingly may equivocate and switch on the visible/invisible church, and on the external/internal covenant (although the traditional Reformed Baptist view sees the New Covenant as purely internal currently).

There is much more, of course, that could be discussed, but perhaps this will get us started. I would love to discuss in whatever way you think is most convenient and profitable, whether over the phone, by e-mail, or in person, or all of the above.

We love you as our spiritual fathers. As my wise and amazing wife told me, if this is not true, then we need to fight to stay Baptists. If this is true, then we need to fight to believe it and to have our hearts follow. Right now my head is there, but my heart does not want to go. Please help us.

Yours In Christ,
Josh Brisby for the Brisbys

Saturday, June 16, 2007

A BRIEF CRITIQUE OF NEW COVENANT THEOLOGY

A while ago I had mentioned that I was doing a study on New Covenant Theology. The purpose of this blog entry is to discuss elements of New Covenant Theology I appreciate, while critiquing the elements I disagree with. I hope to be biblical in this brief discussion.

APPRECIATION OF NCT

New Covenant Theology is a way of interpreting Holy Scripture which places more focus on the discontinuity between the testaments. It sees all of the Old Testament Law as having passed away, even in its moral aspects. As such, New Covenant theologians see the Ten Commandments as being only for Israel, and not for the nations or the New Testament Church. Instead, they see the Sermon on the Mount given by our Lord Jesus as the normative New Testament ethic.

Surprisingly enough, I think that there are elements of this idea that I can agree with. It seems clear to me that from 2 Corinthians 3 that indeed, all of the Law has passed away. But what do we mean by this? I think that is simply to say that, all of the Law has been transformed and written on the hearts of God's elect in Christ, like a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. Tom Wells and Fred Zaspel do the same analogy in their book New Covenant Theology. I appreciate this aspect.

However, what is quite unfortunate is the way I think NCT treats the ethic of Scripture because of this. I think it comes to unfortunate hermeneutical difficulties, and confusion. It is to here which I now turn.

CRITIQUE OF NCT AND CONCERNS

The way Tom Wells and Fred Zaspel in their book flesh out the differences between the testaments is disturbing. Christ is pitted against Moses to the point of contradiction between the two, with no other claim other than that Christ is "higher than" Moses. Indeed, Christ is higher than Moses. But not to the point of contradiction! In fact, even John Macarthur, the dispensationalist, argues that in Matthew 5-7, Christ is not giving us different laws, but is instead correcting the distortions of the Pharisees.

This is the way that John Reisinger views the Sermon on the Mount as well in his Abraham's Four Seeds. It is problematic at best to see Jesus simply dismiss the OT Law. Our Lord does not dismiss the Law (Mt 5:17ff), but rather fulfills it in such a way that brings its fullest intent to bear upon us as Christians.

Indeed, Greg Welty has written numerous articles critiquing this problem in NCT. It seems that NCT does not take a systematic approach to the Scriptures. For example, the law against lust was indeed even *in the Ten Commandments themselves!* "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife." The Proverbs also bear numerous passages dealing with the avoidance of lust.

Wells and Zaspel argue that it was OK to hate your neighbor in the OT, but is not OK in the NT. I refer the reader here to Welty's excellent articles, which also mentioned Scriptures that mention loving the pagan, even in the OT.

When all is said and done, what scares me about NCT is that it seems to be content with saying that the NT even contradicts the OT on certain ethical principles, because Christ is "higher than" than the OT.

WHAT ABOUT THE SABBATH?

NCT believes that the Sabbath has been fulfilled in Christ, and I think I would agree with this. Wells and Zaspel discuss the practical implications of this, and look deeply into Romans 14 and other texts. Again, I would agree, but why can't we say that, for example, the Sabbath has passed away, but the Lord's Day is now its replacement? How far do we take this? Can we meet as the local church body on any day of the week that we want, and disregard Sunday? Is our only obligation to meet? Can we treat the Lord's Day like any other day, merely going to church, but then going out to a movie, or working, or discussing the cares of the week and financial issues?

Indeed, the Lord's Day has been given as a gift to believers. I plan on posting on this in the near future.

NCT'S CRITIQUE OF THE "COVENANT OF GRACE" CONCEPT

NCT also critiques covenant theology's idea of the unity of the covenant of grace by saying that we should instead speaks of the "gospel of grace" or the "purpose of grace." The problem it has is that we should not look at the Scriptures in this way because it imposes a system upon them which is not there, and which can lead to a host of problems.

However, as covenant theologians, when we speak of the unity of the covenant of grace, we ARE speaking of God's purpose of grace, expressed by means of the various covenants administered throughout Scripture. Indeed, most biblical scholars today (even non-covenantal theologians) admit that the concept of covenant is at the core of Scripture. (I'm sure many NCTers would also say the same.) Not everything has been fulfilled yet, even in the Abrahamic Covenant. (Many NCTers would no doubt agree here as well.)

DOES THE NEW TESTAMENT HAVE "LOGICAL PRIORITY"?

Related to this idea, should we give the New Testament "logical priority" over the Old? I believe that that depends on many things exegetically. For example, I don't think that we can accurately understand the Book of Revelation without giving the OLD Testament a sort of "logical priority." And we cannot understand many of the types and shadows of the OT without giving the NT the logical priority.

In other words, it is not that exegesis is over systematic theology. It is that exegesis, biblical theology, and systematic theology are all on the same plane. As one of my friends pointed out to me in a recent discussion, you can't do exegesis without systematic theology, and you can't do systematic theology without exegesis. No doubt, many good exegetes agree about this.

ARE ONLY THE ELECT IN THE NEW COVENANT?

I am going to leave the reader with this last point, but you may recognize that this is also a problem with traditional Reformed Baptist thought. Both Reformed Baptists and New Covenant Baptists will say that only the elect are in the New Covenant. But this is certainly problematic for now, for numerous reasons, Scriptural and practical. In an upcoming post, I will be discussing this.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, it is clear that I did not intend for this post to go into deep detail, nor did I intend it to be a major paper. (Indeed, as a husband and father of four, with a bedridden wife currently, I do not have the time.) However, I wanted to give my readers something to chew on.

It is for those reasons above that I cannot in good conscience embrace New Covenant Theology.

____________________________
ADDENDUM: STEVE LEHRER'S VIEWS

Steve Lehrer is a New Covenant theologian who has recently written a book called New Covenant Theology: Questions Answered. My critique of his book could well be summed up above as well as I critiqued Wells, Zaspel, and Reisinger. However, there is more.

Lehrer is kind of an aberrancy from mainstream NCT in that he (1) denies the imputation of the active obedience of Christ, and (2) holds to some sensationalistic ethics which many NCTers would outright reject.

As far as his denial of the imputation of the active obedience of Christ to the believer, I would refer my readers to past blog entries (especially toward the beginning archives of this site).

But one example of an ethic which Lehrer holds to is that, if it is not repeated in the NT, then it must be permissible. Lehrer believes that, were it not the law of our land, incest would be permissible, because it is not repeated in the NT.

His thing is to ask us why we believe that incest is not permitted. As a covenant theologian, I have my answers. Perhaps Lehrer is more of a consistent NCTer. But if this is where NCT leads logically, then what do we make of this?

LEHRER'S INCONSISTENCIES

Lehrer argues that bestiality would not be permissible, because it would be "committing adultery," and that law is repeated in the NT. But how far do we take this? Would it be OK for someone to marry an eight-year old girl? After all, that is not even discussed in either the OT or the NT!

Furthermore, why would bestiality be adulterous? Lehrer attempts to explain why, but he forgets that adultery as such is defined as "adult"ery," between two "consenting adults."

I am very concerned about Lehrer's views, and I do hope that he might reconsider some of the dangers of his ethical and hermeneutical positions.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

THE MAJESTY OF THE HOLY TRINITY, part 2

A Defense of the Doctrine of the Eternal Sonship of Christ

by Samual E. Waldron

One place at which the historic doctrine of the Trinity is in danger from rationalism in our day is in a widespread doubt among evangelical teachers as to the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son and the eternal procession of the Spirit. This doubt is probably due to the seeming contradiction of asserting that the Son is self-existent God and yet eternally generated. The Baptist Confession, in line with both the Westminster Confession and the Savoy Declaration and all the historic creeds of the church, warns us against indulging such doubts upon this subject.

It is often thought that the doctrine of eternal generation involves Subordinationism. Three kinds of subordination must be distinguished.

There is subordination in the modes of operation. This has reference to the subordination of the God-man to the Father in the economy of redemption. This may be called economic subordination.

Secondly, there is subordination in the modes of subsistence. This has reference to an order and relationship of derivation among the persons (or hypostases) of the Trinity itself. The Son is begotten of the Father. The Spirit proceeds from both. This may be called hypostatic subordination.

Thirdly, there is subordination in essence. This has reference to the idea that the deity of the Son and Spirit is a qualified form of the deity of the Father. This may be called essential subordination. It is this which has been historically and properly known as Subordinationism.

The historic doctrine of the church and its creeds is that as to their essence the Son and Spirit are equal in power and glory to the Father, but as to their persons they are eternally generated and eternally proceed from the Father. Thus, as to their essence, they are self-existent, while as to their persons, they are eternally derived from the Father. As the historic doctrines of the church, these two doctrines are not rightly called Subordinationism. That term is properly reserved for the teaching that the Son and the Spirit are as to their essence less God than the Father and essentially less transcendent. Hypostatic subordination and economic subordination are not, therefore, Subordinationism. The biblical evidence in favour of the eternal generation of the Son may be summarized as follows.

The economy of redemption is that of creation (John 1: 1 3; Heb 1:2; 1 Cor. 8:6). Surely it is strange that both in the economy of creation and the economy of redemption the same order is maintained, if this economic subordinationdoes not reflect a certain hypostatic subordination in the Trinity itself?

The Bible teaches explicitly that the Son is begotten, or, at least, derived (John 1: 14, 18). The translation of the key word is, however, disputed. Some translate it in the traditional way, 'only begotten', while others prefer the translation I unique'. To some extent this problem of translation is related to a disputed etymology. Some derive the word from the verb which means 'to beget' and others from the verb which means 'to become'. Either possible etymology contains the idea of (eternal) derivation.

Proverbs 8:22-31 also contains explicit teaching to this effect, if applied to the Son of God. The New Testament seems to make the application itself (Col. 2:3; 1 Cor. 1:24, 30; Luke 11:49). Note also Micah 5:2.

It has sometimes been argued that the designation 'Son' is never used of the pre-incarnate Christ. Allowing this interpretation of these terms for the sake of argument, it does not explain the use of the term 'Father.' This term is clearly applied to the first person of the Trinity describing his relationship to the second before the incarnation (John 10: 36; 16:28; 1 John 4:14). It is impossible to disentangle this term from the idea of One who is the cause, source, or begetter. The Father is the Father precisely to the Son (John 5:18; Col. 1:3; Eph. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:3; 1 Cor. 8:6).

The argument that the term 'Son' is never used of the preincarnate Christ is not convincing (John 3:16; Gal. 4:4; 1 John 4:14).

The argument that the term 'Son' means nothing but equality simply does not carry conviction. That it does note equality we do not, of course, deny. However, to say that it denotes only this appears to fly in the faceof everything we know not only about the word 'father' but also the word 'son'.

Further evidence for the doctrine of eternal generation is gained from what we may call the doctrine of eternal utterance. The other clear designation of the pre-incarnate Son is the Word. Surely this designation intimates a relationship of subordination between the person designated God and the person designated the Word in John 1: 1. As to their essence both are God, unqualified deity. 'The Word was God.' As to their persons, however, one is called 'the God' and the other is called 'the Word' of God.

Without eternal generation and eternal procession and the doctrine of hypostatic subordination it is impossible to distinguish the different persons of the Trinity. There are no revealed personal relations or properties. Even terminology like the First, Second, or Third Person of the Trinity becomes illegitimate. We are left with three colourless, unvarying, indistinguishable persons in the Trinity. This result smells of the barrenness of human philosophy, not the richness of biblical revelation.

Finally, the suppression of a real eternal fatherhood and a real eternal sonship lessens the glory of redemptive love. Is not the glory of the Father giving his Son for our redemption lessened if we limit the idea of sonship in this sentence to mere equality? The result is that one neutered divine person gives another colourless divine person. On this idea, where is the glory of the Father's sacrifice? Where is the glory of the Son's filial obedience? The tendency to doubt eternal generation and eternal procession diminishes the glory of the gospel.

(This work was taken from pages 56-59 of 'A Modern exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith,' by Samuel E. Waldron – second edition)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

THE PRACTICALITY OF THE REFORMED FAITH

I am once again glad to be a Calvinist.

As I type this, I have had quite an emotional roller-coaster ride today. Right now, my wife is staying overnight at the hospital. Today, she had the worst headache of all time in her life, and hasn't been able to keep any food down.

One doctor said it was "sinusitis" (first time I've heard of that). But she just called me and told me that her Kaiser doctor came to the hospital, and said her symptoms don't seem to be of "sinusitis," so he ordered an MRI.

Tonight, or early in the morning, my wife is going to have an MRI to determine what is going on. And I'm not going to be there, because I am home with the kids.

I am typically a worrier. I know our Lord tells us not to worry, because it doesn't add a single hour to our lives, or a single cubit to our height.

But I love my wife so much.

Or not enough.

I know I don't love God and Christ enough.

Lord, once again, I dare come before You, and beg You to have mercy on me, the unworthy sinner of sinners. I continue to take Your blessings for granted, and I take my salvation for granted. O Lord, forgive me again and again! Please have mercy on my wife this evening, the precious bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. I pray that You would be with her, even now. Please comfort her. Please grant her peace. Please grant me peace. Grant me peace to trust in You and Your wise and sovereign care. I know that everything happens, O Lord, because You have ordained it so. Help us to bow the knee to Your sovereign will. In Jesus' precious Name. Amen.

Friday, June 08, 2007

JUNE 8TH: OUR ANNIVERSARY!!!

Today my wifey and I celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary. We sipped Martinelli's and toasted and watched our full wedding video. It was so wonderful.

The Lord has been so good to us during our five years. I have the most beautiful wife anyone could ever imagine, and the most gracious and selfless wife as well.

The Lord has blessed us with four precious children as well. May He be pleased to grant us even more. May our Lord be pleased to grant us with many more years of a happy marriage.

Most of all, may our Lord be pleased to continue to use our marriage for His purposes, and for His glory.

Lord, let our family honor You. In Jesus' Name. Amen.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

THE MAJESTY OF THE HOLY TRINITY, part 1

Praise to the God Who is Three Persons!

I marvel over how mysterious the Trinity is. Have you ever studied the difference between the ontological Trinity and the economical Trinity? I refer you to Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology for this.

The ontological Trinity is mysteriously beautiful. We speak of God being "one in essence, three in Person." This is true as far as it goes, but many misunderstand this and think of God as an abstract essence, wherein three Persons fill that essence. But this is not the way the Bible speaks of God.

Van Til was right when he said that God was "Absolute Person." Although, that too was a bit confusing, because God is Three Persons, not one person.

The way the Church has always understood this is that the Father is the eternal Source of the Trinity, and the Son was eternally begotten of the Father (filiation), and the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father, through the Son (spiration). Historically, it was debated whether we should say that the Spirit proceeds from the Father AND the Son, because the concern was that the Father be considered the eternal Source, and some felt that to say "AND the Son" (filioque) compromised this. But the other side wanted to respond to the Arian heretics by proving that Jesus was eternal God as well, which was their concern.

I believe there is nothing wrong in saying that the Spirit proceeds from the Father AND the Son as long as it is properly understood that we mean "through" the Son. Indeed, the Father is the eternal source, or fountainhead, of the Trinity, and the Son is eternally generated, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and (through) the Son.

SOME NAYSAYERS

There have been some recent naysayers, particularly coming from evangelicalism. Their concern is that they think that it is a contradiction to say "eternal generation." They argue that the Son became the Son only at the Incarnation, but before then, He was only the Word. But this is not the Church's position, and it never has been. The Church's position is that the Son was eternally begotten of the Father.

This is also the position of the Reformed creeds and confessions. It is the position of my Confession as well, The London Baptist Confession of 1689.

I think it is important to recognize the mystery here, but it is also important to humbly bow the knee to the mind of the Church.

"BUT WE JUST NEED TO GO BACK TO THE BIBLE!"

Some will say, "OK, so it's the position of the historic Church, and the position of the Reformed confessions. So what? What matters is what the Bible says."

I am all for what Scripture says. I think that this can be deduced from Scripture as well. But there is also something to be said for submitting to the mind of the Church. Do we understand Scripture perfectly? It has always been the heretics who have said that we need to ignore what the Church has always said.

"BUT THE REFORMERS WERE ALL ABOUT SOLA SCRIPTURA!"

Yes, the Reformers were about Sola Scriptura, as am I. But they never understood Sola Scriptura as just "me, my Bible, and the Holy Spirit." Indeed, Roman Catholic heretics and Eastern Orthodox heretics always criticize us Protestants for this kind of attitude.

But, historically, "me, my Bible, and the Holy Spirit" was never the attitude of the Reformers, and it is not what Sola Scriptura means. No, they understood it as submission to the mind of the Church, and bowed the knee to her most willingly. They recognized that the Church was indeed "the pillar and foundation of all truth." They saw the Bible as the Church's book. This is the position of the Reformed faith today as well.

UPCOMING ARTICLE

In part 2, I will be posting an article from a brother which is excellent on the eternal Sonship of Christ. I again also refer my readers to Louis Berkhof's excellent treatment in his Systematic Theology.

I hope that these posts aid us all to marvel at how mysterious and how beautiful our God is!