Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Legalism vs. Liberty (Part 2)

Please read "Legalism vs. Liberty (Part 1)" before reading this post.

Now that we have established the understanding of legalism and liberty in Paul’s day, as well as how I believe contemporary Christians should use and understand these two terms, I want to journey into the practical application part of this lesson.

Since we do not have any constraining religious dietary laws that Christian leaders want to impose on the masses in order that they might be saved, we really can’t relate with much of what the Judaizers were teaching. Likewise, most Christians view circumcision as a completely symbolic option for boys or simply a choice that pertains more to health and has nothing to do with getting saved. So in the most direct sense, the exact application of the truth of Scripture here does not make one bit of difference for our lives today. We weren’t thinking that we had to be circumcised for salvation before, and we still aren’t.

However, I do think that it is important to see that there are a few things that modern “Christianity” has imposed upon the people and it directly relates to salvation. The two things that I am specifically referring to are the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. Some congregations refer to these as sacraments and others (ours) refer to them as ordinances. But either way you look at it, these are the two things that Christ commanded us to do. The command to baptize new believers was included in many places, but most prominently Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus (John 3:3-8) and in the Great Commission.

“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’" (Matthew 28:18-20)

In the almost two millennia that has passed since Christ lived, preached, died, rose, and ascended back into heaven, many different institutions have tried to put greater emphasis on either or both of these different commands. For instance, some popular modern teachers and churches require that you be baptized in the name of Jesus in order to be saved. This teaching began out of the Pentecostal movement in the early 20th century, and its adherents believe that Acts 2:38 which states, “Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.“ is the fulfillment of the baptismal command in the Great Commission. This may seem like a small and insignificant error, and I would agree that it is if this were the extent of the teaching. They (Oneness Pentecostals) teach that any other baptism that was done in the style of the Great Commission (i.e. in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is not really baptism. But even worse than this is the belief that you must be baptized in their formula in order to be saved. This went from a simple disagreement over how best to adhere to the scriptural command to baptize believers into a heretical system that requires baptism in their formula and by their ministers in order to be saved. Consequently, since it seems to be the case that error on one issue begets error on others, Oneness Pentecostal’s also do not believe in the Trinity.1 It is notable that this heresy of Oneness Pentecostalism is not a new invention of the twentieth century, but it is the resurgence of an ancient heresy known as Sabellianism which was arose first in the third century.

I labeled the above doctrine on baptism (i.e. only in the name of Jesus) as a heresy because it places requirements or prerequisites for salvation over and above those contained in scripture. In a similar way, but definitely a more accepted and long standing tradition, the doctrine of baptism (or the Sacrament of Baptism) in the Roman Catholic Church states the following about Baptism:

“Theologians distinguish a twofold necessity, which they call a necessity of means (medii) and a necessity of precept (præcepti), The first (medii) indicates a thing to be so necessary that, if lacking (though inculpably), salvation can not be attained, The second (præcepti) is had when a thing is indeed so necessary that it may not be omitted voluntarily without sin; yet, ignorance of the precept or inability to fulfill it, excuses one from its observance.”2

Basically stated, if you know about the command to be baptized, and you are not baptized in their system by a Roman Catholic Priest, you cannot be saved. This is no less of a heresy than the modalistic Oneness doctrine described before it. It is possibly even a worse error now because it is so wide spread and taught that most people don’t even question it. And, if you think that I am being a little harsh on Roman Catholicism by saying that their doctrine of salvation (because with them baptism is undistinguishable from actually being saved) is heretical, read what the Roman Catholic Church states about those of us who hold a symbolic understanding of baptism; an understanding that baptism doesn’t save someone.

“This is the sense in which it has always been understood by the Church, and the Council of Trent (Sess, IV, cap, vi) teaches that justification can not be obtained, since the promulgation of the Gospel, without the washing of regeneration or the desire thereof (in voto), In the seventh session, it declares (can. v) anathema upon anyone who says that baptism is not necessary for salvation.”3

Basically, there is no love lost between the Council of Trent (and therefore Catholicism for all time) and the reformers in their understanding of baptism. As a side note, the Council of Trent equates the “washing of regeneration” (Titus 3:5) with the act of baptism, and that is through baptism. So, in order to be justified, one must first be baptized. This is so contrary to the biblical testimony that it would be funny if it were not so wicked. Justification comes by faith in Jesus Christ.4

In a similar fashion to Baptism, the Lord’s Supper has been distorted to be a means of grace, or something by which salvation is attained, maintained, or regained. The Lord’s Supper is referred to in several places, but it is primarily in the record of the last supper (Matthew 26:26-46; Mark 14:22-31; Luke 22:14-23; John 13:1-20), Jesus’ words concerning the fact that He is the Bread of Life (John 6:41-58), but the observance of this command by the church is recorded for us by Paul’s writing to the Corinthians.

“and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me." In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:24-26)

The Roman Catholic Church has built a doctrine surrounding the Lord’s Supper called Transubstantiation, which also called the Real Presence. Basically, the Roman Catholic Church, primarily looking at John 6:52-58, has built the doctrine that Jesus becomes truly present in the proper offering of communion, and it is the spiritual food for the Christian that is required for salvation.

“The sacraments of Christian initiation - Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist - lay the foundations of every Christian life. "The sharing in the divine nature given to men through the grace of Christ bears a certain likeness to the origin, development, and nourishing of natural life. The faithful are born anew by Baptism, strengthened by the sacrament of Confirmation, and receive in the Eucharist the food of eternal life. By means of these sacraments of Christian initiation, they thus receive in increasing measure the treasures of the divine life and advance toward the perfection of charity."5

The idea that our spiritual lives and devotion are dependant upon the food that we eat seems far fetched. Granted, Paul does warn against taking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner which resulted in some of the Corinthians dying, but there is no clear implication that we grow spiritually in the same way that we grow physically, i.e. the more of the Eucharist that I take, the more spiritual and holy I become. But, the idea that one grows spiritually simply by partaking of communion is a smaller matter, although still significant, compared to the following blasphemous idea.

“Though Holy Communion does not per se remit mortal sin, it has nevertheless the third effect of "blotting out venial sin and preserving the soul from mortal sin" (Council of Trent, Sess. XIII, cap. ii). The Holy Eucharist is not merely a food, but a medicine as well. The destruction of venial sin and of all affection to it, is readily understood on the basis of the two central ideas mentioned above. Just as material food banishes minor bodily weaknesses and preserves man's physical strength from being impaired, so does this food of our souls remove our lesser spiritual ailments and preserve us from spiritual death.”6

In case you missed the reason for my outrage, it is primarily centered around Trent’s declaration the taking the Lord’s Supper has the power of "blotting out venial sin and preserving the soul from mortal sin." The translation is that some sins are forgiven (“blotted out”) by simply the act of taking the Lord’s Supper. Of course, there are qualifications that are listed elsewhere in Catholic dogma stating that the bread must be of only a certain recipe, the Priest must do all of the movements and recitations of the ritual perfectly, he must also have pure intentions, and the recipient must have pure intentions otherwise the spiritual value is almost insignificant.

But again, this is all window dressing on an even larger heresy. When the Lord’s Supper is given in the Roman tradition, it is called the Sacrifice of the Mass. Hebrews tells us that Christ died once for all, and He is not sacrificed over and over (Hebrews 7:27; 9:11-14; 10:10). It is a sick perversion of God’s promise to forgive sins to say that some sins are forgiven (or can be forgiven) in the Sacrifice of the Mass. Romans 5:1 says that we have been justified and we have (present possession) peace with God. Peace with God is only attainable without sin, and that is only available through faith in Jesus Christ, not through ceremonial observance.

So, you see, the application of the exact same type of false teaching that Paul was warring against in the book of Galatians is the same sort of false teaching that is around today. The only difference is that it has been repackaged into the Christian framework of western society as opposed to the Jewish framework of the early church. I affirm, just as the Bible teaches, that man is saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.

We dare not become legalistic to teach that baptism or communion are necessary for one to be saved. However, I really appreciate what John Piper once said when he was asked this same question; is baptism necessary for salvation?

“It isn’t absolutely [necessary] because the thief on the cross was saved. Jesus said, ‘today you will be with Me in paradise’ and he didn’t have any opportunity to be baptized. So I wanted to start with the absolute statement: it s not absolutely necessary. However, if a person draws from that this inference, “Well who cares whether you’re baptized or not. I don’t care if Jesus said ‘go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t matter to me whether Jesus said [that] because John said you don’t have to be baptized to be saved.” Now that attitude towards the command of Jesus might signify [that] they’re not saved; they just don’t believe in Jesus. And so baptism then becomes the touchstone or a point at which “not to be baptized” doesn’t, in itself, damn you, but the attitude of refusing to be baptized is what damns you. And so I want to be careful how we say it. So baptism is not in and of itself, that is water on the body, somehow, either magically or sacramentally, the saving agent. We are saved by grace through faith and that not of ourselves, and then we signify what has happened to us and bear witness to it in baptism.”7

I think that John Piper is right on when he refers to the attitude of refusing to be baptized as opposed to the lack of baptism as the thing that shows that you are condemned. The next question that might come up refers to someone who believes in the biblical doctrines of justification by faith and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner at the moment of salvation, but they believe in infant baptism where the bible seems to clearly indicate that baptism follows the conversion of the believer.

The question is then, that if people have the doctrines of justification and sanctification right, but they believe in infant baptism, does that qualify as a type of refusal that would show that a person is condemned? My short answer is no, and I’ll try to explain why.

There are many Christians who view baptism as more of a covenantal ritual similar to circumcision as opposed to strictly being the act of obedience following conversion. They would still baptize adults who convert, but as a rule, if a child is born to a family in the congregation, that child would be baptized. These same Christians believe that it is through faith that one is saved, and not through baptism (i.e. not baptismal regeneration). When confronted with the issue of baptism, these same Christian brothers defend infant baptism in this sense as the teaching of scripture and defend it with historically biblical arguments. So the reason why this same Christian brother does not get baptized as a believer is not because he is unwilling to submit to the command of God, but he is convinced that the act of baptism as an infant fulfilled this command of Christ.

So, the distinction is that this refusal (although it is still wrong in my opinion) is not a refusal because of a lack of zeal for God or for obeying His commands, but it is exactly because the person is defending what they understand from scripture that they refuse to be baptized as an adult. So if this is the case with you, and you are not convinced that the baptism of an adult should be the first act of obedience following conversion (this is also called believer’s baptism), this omission is not a sign of a rebellious and condemned faker masquerading as a Christian, but as any other sin or lack of direct application that any Christian does.

However, if you are convinced that believer’s baptism is what is mandated in scripture and you have, and have had, many opportunities in which to obey Christ, but you refuse to be obedient, this may indicate the fact that you have not been born again and are still in your sins.

When I attended Northwestern College, I had a saying that is very applicable now. You see, at NWC, there were many social guidelines that were in place for various reasons. All students, faculty, and staff had to agree (in writing) to follow these guidelines for as long as they were associated with NWC. A few of the rules that seemed to rub students the wrong way were the regulations not to dance or to drink alcohol (even when you were of age). This did not stop everyone from participating in these actions while associated with NWC. As a student, I would often get into conversations with my friends about this issue. My friends thought that these rules were oppressive, wrong, and unbiblical. But, whenever we’d debate, I would never challenge these conclusions, and I would, for the sake of the argument, agree that they were correct and that the stipulations in question were wrong for those reasons. However, that does not change the fact that every student, every member of the faculty, and everyone on staff agreed to these rules before they began with the school. So, my argument was simple: if you cannot keep yourself from drinking and dancing for four years, how much can you possibly love Jesus Christ?

It may sound like a little bit of a leap, but it isn’t. Christ demands our obedience, and if I do not obey Jesus, it is a sign that I am not a Christian. If I willingly put myself under the obligation to follow certain rules that I disagree with, I should – out of a love for Christ – obey those rules and count my “suffering” as a privilege. If I cannot put Christ and my love for Him and obedience to those in authority over me (as it relates to drinking and dancing at college) as a higher priority than my desires, how willing will I then be to forsake all things to follow Christ and endure harsher and more unpleasant repercussions of persecution and death for the sake of obeying Christ.

1 If you do not think that the Trinity is a doctrine to contend for, please read my previous article "an apologetic e-mail"

2 http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02258b.htm#IX

3 Ibid.

4 You can read Faith Alone - a Truly Biblical Doctrine and Justification: "Works" vs. "Works of the Law" for more on the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

5 CCC 1212 http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/para/1212.htm

6 http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05584a.htm

7 10/9/06 commentary before the Desiring God radio broadcast of “United with Christ in Death and Life, Part 2a”

1 comment:

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