Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Open Communion: A Move Toward the Subjective

Along with considering the proper subjects of baptism, re-establishing (we believe) the apostolic practice of baptism being a church ordinance reserved for believers [those demonstrating credible evidence of repentance and faith], Baptists through the ages have also had to consider the proper subjects of the second ordinance. That is: in our worship services, whom should we invite to partake of the Lord's Supper with us? As I mentioned in a previous post: some Baptist congregations practice open communion, inviting anyone who is a believer to the table. (I've heard that some liberal churches invite all people to the table regardless of faith, but according to Dr. Greg Wills, all Baptist congregations have historically seen faith as a prerequisite to the table.) Some congregations practice close communion, inviting any baptized believer to the table. A few congregations (including the famous Metropolitan Tabernacle in London) practice closed [or strict] communion, only inviting their own members to the table. 

I was raised in the close communion tradition, and I believe that this tradition is best reflective of biblical teaching. I have been surprised to find some Baptist brothers recently arguing for the open communion position. I believe that the practice of open communion is attended by a number of problems: biblically, historically, and practically. In this post, I would like to consider one problem with open communion: namely, the move toward subjectivism.

Our culture is characterized by a focus on the subjective. By subjective, I mean the personal (individual), opinion and experience-based aspect of perceived reality; rather than the objective: the universal (communal), facts-based aspect of reality, focused on what takes place regardless of the individual's perception. The practice of open communion elevates the subjective in two ways: 1. regarding the definition and nature of baptism; 2. regarding the presence of faith.

First: based on New Testament evidence, Baptists agree that "baptism" is properly defined as "the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit" [BF&M 2000]. We also agree, based on the Great Commission, Peter's Pentecost sermon, and other New Testament texts, that baptism is to be an initiating ordinance into the church. By inviting the unbaptized to the Lord's Table, even if (according to their own understanding) the individuals involved have been "baptized" as infants, those who advocate open communion are making the definition and nature of baptism a matter of opinion rather than of fact.

Second: as mentioned in the first paragraph above, Baptists who affirm open communion typically invite believers alone to the Lord's Table. But here is an important question: how does a person know if he or she is a believer? In a healthy church situation, a person who comes to faith in Christ will be interviewed by the pastors/elders of the church. Upon finding that the person gives reasonable evidence of conversion, that person will then be baptized before the congregation. Baptism, then, is both a public witness for the one being baptized and to the one being baptized. In baptism, part of what is happening is that the congregation (through the church officer administering the baptism) is confirming that the one receiving baptism has given evidence of true conversion. Apart from baptism, properly administered, the question of whether a person is a believer is entirely subjective. In an open communion scenario, each individual in the congregation, without the confirming testimony of any local church, is invited to determine whether he or she has come to faith. Due the deceitfulness of our hearts, I believe that we need the formal counsel of our brothers and sisters in this matter. Whereas no congregational act is absolutely fool-proof, the close communion tradition, properly articulated, places an additional check upon individual self-deception.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Some Quotes from J.L. Dagg Contra Open Communion

In a previous post, I ended by recommending J.L. Dagg's writings in favor of close communion/membership [the practice of inviting only baptized believers to the Lord's Table and/or church membership] in his Manual of Church Order [found HERE under Chapter V, Section IV]. While I would encourage readers to study the whole section in order to follow his biblical argumentation, I wanted to point out some specific quotes that persuasively summarize key points of his chapter on this.


"Local churches, if organized according to the Scriptures, contain none but baptized persons."

"[In the Great Commission], the separation of baptism from all the other things which Christ had commanded, gives it a peculiar relation to the other things enjoined in the commission; and the order in which it is introduced cannot but signify the proper order for our obedience."

"The church which excludes a Pedobaptist from the Lord’s table, does not design to inflict a punishment on him, but merely to do its own duty, as a body to which the Lord has intrusted one of his ordinances. The simple aim is, to regulate the observance according to the will of the Lord."

"When a church receives an unbaptized person, something more is done than merely to tolerate his error. There are two parties concerned. The acts of entering the church and partaking of its communion are his, and for them he is responsible. The church also acts when it admits him to membership, and authorizes his participation of the communion. The church, as an organized body, with power to receive and exclude members according to rules which Christ has laid down, is responsible for the exercise of this power."

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Monday, September 19, 2016

Bury or Cremate? Gospel Witness Must Inform Our Decision

[The following post is adapted and expanded from a blogpost that I originally published on April 12, 2009.]

Dr. Russell Moore, the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has written at least two articles on the issue of burial vs. cremation: "Grave Signs" and "The Empty Tomb and the Emptied Urn." In these articles, Dr. Moore discussed the historical-biblical Christian view on why burial is to be preferred over cremation. He discussed how this issue is related to the Christian hope for the resurrection.

Before being challenged to carefully think through this issue while at seminary, I believed the matter to be so unimportant as to be unworthy of reflection. I did not think that the Bible really addressed this issue. I was (and am) sure that Christian bodies which are burned can still take part in the coming resurrection. I thought that it would be wise to save money by choosing cremation over burial. So I understand how Christians, trying to make a wise decision, can reach the conclusion to cremate.

My current views on the subject, however, are well-summarized by "Steve," who commented on "The Empty Tomb and the Emptied Urn" [I can no longer see his comment online]:
I am sensitive to deep feelings many have about how they cared for bodies of their loved ones. God will raise every believer in a bodily resurrection, regardless of how the dead body was treated or mistreated. In that sense, with regard to God's power and the final outcome, burial vs. cremation does not matter. Yet it does matter to those still living on earth. Our funeral practice should reflect a true biblical theology in which God is profoundly concerned with our bodies. Jesus Christ took on a body, died on the Cross and rose to redeem not just our souls, but also our bodies. We believe in the resurrection of the body, not eternal bodiless life in heaven. Early Christians treated the dead differently from pagans who burned their dead. Burial is not commanded, but expresses hope and respect for the flesh God created. Burial stands against incipient Gnosticism which suggests the body is simply disposable.
Since virtually every person must one day face the issue of burial vs. cremation, we must give this matter careful consideration. Those who follow Christ must seek wisdom first and foremost from God's Word. We should also look to how our older brothers and sisters in Christ have thought through this issue in past centuries.

Within the Reformed tradition, the Second Helvetic Confession directly addresses the subject of burial in Chapter 26, with the following words:
The Scripture directs that the bodies of the faithful, as being temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19; cf. John 2:21-22), which we truly believe shall rise against at the last day, should be honorably, without any superstition, committed to the earth; and, besides, that we should make honorable mention of those who died in the Lord (cf. Rev 14:13)... we do greatly mislike the Cynics, who neglected the bodies of the dead, or did carelessly and disdainfully cast them into the earth,
The framers of the Second Helvetic Confession saw this as a matter of Christian witness vs. paganism. In this, they were in line with Augustine, who also wrote on the propriety of burial. For more information on Augustine's view, with some additional considerations of this issue, I recommend Daniel Scheiderer's excellent article: "Cremation? Burial? A Simple Commentary on Augustine."

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