What Does Baptism Look Like? Seven Observations from John 3:22–36

baptism_of_st_paul_-_capela_palatina_-_palermo_-_italy_2015-2“Look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him!”
— John 3:26b —

In John 3 a dispute about baptism arose between the disciples of John the Baptist and a Jew. While unnamed, this Jew caused an existential crisis for the followers of John. So great is their concern about purification, baptism, and the rise of Jesus, they run to their teacher and point to his baptism. Verse 26 captures their concern: “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.”

In this question about baptism, prompted by a dispute about purification, we find an analogue to modern debates about this biblical ordinance. Today, there are questions related to the mode, the subject, and the place. That is: Does sprinkling or pouring count as baptism? What about sprinkling a believer? Or immersing an infant? (See video below). Does a private baptism between friends qualify? And how should we understand the difference (or similarities) between the initiating rite of the old covenant (circumcision) and the initiating rite of the new covenant (water baptism)? All these questions and more need biblical answers.

[The Greek Orthodox remind us that baptizō means immersion, plunging, dipping].

Over the last few years, I have written multiple articles on baptism in the Bible and its pre-requisite for membership in the church. As an unashamed Baptist, who affirms the historical confessions of London, Philadelphia, New Hampshire, and Nashville, I will continue to write on the subject. Why? Because baptism continues to come up in conversation with visitors and others who are thinking about membership at our church.

With that in mind, I offer another exegetical take on baptism—one that comes from John’s Gospel and the dispute about baptism found therein. Following the imperative to “Look!” we will look at what John says about John’s baptism, Jesus’s baptism, and the conversation in John 3 about the new birth, baptism in the Spirit, and the practice of baptizing repentant believers. So, with this visual approach to John 3, I offer seven things we see about baptism. Here’s the list; explanations will follow.

  1. Baptism is performed in public with a group of witnesses.
  2. Baptism requires biblical discernment.
  3. Baptism is handled by Jesus’s disciples, not Jesus.
  4. Baptism is always by immersion.
  5. Baptism requires people to seek water.
  6. Baptism leads to disputations.
  7. Baptism requires humility.

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Built on the Word: A Theological Vision for Ministry (Audio and Handouts)

Built on the Word

In February, our church joined with Redeeming Grace Church (Fairfax) and Grace Church (Gainesville) to host a seminar on doing ministry built on the word of God.

In an age when churches are experimenting with all sorts of new methods for doing ministry (and I’m not just talking about Zoom), it is our conviction that ministry should be built from floor to ceiling on the word of God. This two-day seminar sought to equip leaders in our respective churches by giving them an historical, theological, and practical guide for doing church ministry with God’s Word, all for the purpose of making disciples.

Here are the messages and handouts produced in that seminar. If building your ministry on the Word matters to you, these resources may be a help.

Introduction: How can we connect our faith and practice?

Session 1: What did we inherit? The Church: Universal, Local, Ancient, and Modern

Session 2: On what do we stand? Sola Scriptura and the Sufficiency of God’s Word

Session 3: What are we to do? Making Disciples Amidst the Idols of Our World

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo Credit: Redeeming Grace Church

Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Six Old Testament Lessons for the New Testament Church

jonathan-farber-_lpQA9ox6IA-unsplash.jpgWhen the Western tribes of Israel heard that Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh built an altar near the Jordan River, they were ready to go to war (Josh. 22:10–12). This altar threatened God’s favor on Israel, and the obedient sons of Israel were ready to act. Fortunately, before they took up swords against their brothers, they sent a delegation to inquire about this altar.

This peace-keeping mission is what Joshua 22:10–34 describes, and in these verses we find a tremendous model for peace-making in the church today.  In what follows, we will consider six priorities for genuine reconciliation.

Six Priorities for Peace-Making 

First, peace requires a faithful (high) priest.

When the Western tribes learned of the altar, they gathered at Shiloh to make war. Only before proceeding on that path, they sent a priest by the name of Phinehas. Phinehas is well-known to us because of his actions in Numbers 25. There, he atoned for the sins of the people by taking a spear in his own hand and killing Zimri and Cozbi. This appeased God, ended the plague brought on by Israel’s sexual immorality, and proved Phinehas’s faithfulness as a priest.

Now, following his lead, the delegation of Israel went to inquire of their brothers. What becomes apparent in this peace negotiation is that these brothers acted in faith and did not sin against God or them. Thus, a faithful priest was necessary for making peace. Only now with the split between the tribes of Israel, peace is made by putting the sword down and not going to war. The lesson in this is that faithful priests knew how to divide clean and unclean (Lev. 10:11). Phinehas excellence, therefore, is proved by his ability to make this decision.

At the same time, it is vital to see that a priest is still needed to make peace. In the new covenant, Christ is the peace of his people, one who has made peace by his cross and one who preaches peace to those far and near (Eph. 2:14–17). Moreover, Jesus lives to intercede for his brothers (Heb. 7:25). Thus, the unity of the church is preserved by Christ and his priesthood.

Likewise, Jesus as our great high priest also teaches God’s people how to be priests to one another. As Matthew 5:9 says, those who make peace prove themselves to sons of God, which is to say, they prove themselves to be faithful priests in God’s household. (Faithful sonship was always the source of true priesthood). Today, if the church has any unity, it is because Christ is the one who is mediating the new covenant and praying effectively for his people to become peace-makers. Continue reading

Old Testament Instruction for the New Testament Church: 10 Things About Joshua 22

michel-porro-vfaFxFltAvA-unsplashWhen we think about finding help for practical matters in the church, 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy are books that come to mind. However, Joshua should be added to the list of places we go to find help for practical ecclesiology. In this list of ten, we will see how Joshua 22 fits into the book of Joshua. And from its place in the book of Joshua, we will see at least five ways this chapter informs a variety of church matters.

1. Joshua 22 begins the fourth and last section of Joshua.

In Joshua there are three or four major sections, depending on how you organize the book. But however you arrange it, Joshua 22 begins a new section, one composed of three concluding assembles. As Dale Ralph Davis puts it,

Observe that each of these last three chapters begins when Joshua summons (Hebrew, qara’) Israel or some significant segment of it (22:1; 23:2; 24:1). Thus the book closes with three assemblies of the people of God. Remember that all this immediately follows the heavy theological text, 21:43-45, which emphatically underscores Yahweh’s fidelity to his promise.

By contrast, chapters 22–24 are preoccupied with the theme of Israel’s fidelity to Yahweh (22:5, 16, 18, 19, 25, 29, 31; 23:6, 8, 11; 24:14-15, 16, 18, 21, 23, 24).’ Hence the last three chapters constitute the writer’s major application: Israel must respond in kind to Yahweh’s unwavering faithfulness. Willing bondage [think: Paul’s use of the word doulos] to this faithful God is their only rational and proper response. The logic is that of the ‘therefore’ of Romans 12:1 as it follows the divine mercies of Romans 1-11. In principle it is the same as ‘love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.’ (Joshua, 169–70)

Davis’s observation about these three assemblies is most helpful for establishing a link between Israel living in the land and God’s people living before God today. Thus, we can be sure that these chapters are meant to help churches walk together in covenant unity.

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A City on a Hill: What the Levitical Cities Teach the Church About Glorifying God Together (Joshua 20–21)

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A City on a Hill: What the Levitical Cities Teach the Church About Glorifying God

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus called his followers a city on a hill (Matthew 5:14–16). This title has often been used to speak of America, as well as other institutions of moral influence. Yet, it is most appropriately applied to the church. This is seen throughout the New Testament (cf. 1 Peter 2), but we also find this idea in the Old Testament.

In this week’s sermon on Joshua 20–21, Israel’s role spreading God’s light to the nations is seen in the cities God established for refuge and instruction. In fact, by learning about the purposes the cities of refuge (Josh. 20) and Levitical cities (Josh. 21), we learn much about God’s purposes for his people. This has historical relevance for understanding the nation of Israel. But it also has theological application for Christ and his new covenant people.

You can listen to this sermon online. Discussion questions are additional resources are available below.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds Continue reading

What Hath the Lord’s Supper To Do with Baptism (pt. 1)

ryan-loughlin--a8Cewc-qGQ-unsplashBut you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified
in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
– 1 Corinthians 6:11 –

 Few gospel truths are more essential than this one: there are only two kinds of people in the world—those in Christ and those in Adam, those who have believed the gospel and those who have rejected it, those who have been born from above and those who have only been born from below. Though Scripture has many ways to speak of sheep and goats, wheat and chaff, good fig and bad, the uniform testimony is that there are only two kinds of people.

For those committed to the truth of Scripture, this division leads to one of two eternal destinies—heaven or hell. There is no third way, no middle ground. And thankfully, every time a gospel preacher heralds this sifting truth, he makes clear the call of the gospel—to repent and believe and enter the kingdom.

Yet, for every clear proclamation of the gospel, there can be an unintended confusion when it comes to baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In other words, when the church took up the gospel, it called believers to be baptized. Whereas Jesus proclaimed “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15), Peter proclaimed “Repent and be baptized . . . in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38).

Did Peter change Jesus’s message? Absolutely not! Rather, Peter’s invitation to baptism is a call to join God’s people—i.e. to repent of your sin, believe on Christ, and join the community of faith identified with Christ by baptism. In Acts, the pattern of baptism is always believe first then receive baptism by immersion in water (see Acts 8:12). In this way, the gospel which divided believers from unbelievers was confirmed by a community of faith set apart from the world. Continue reading

Getting Our Deacons in a Row: A Collection of Resources

deacons02.jpgDuring the month of June, our church has been thinking about deacons during our Sunday School hour. And to help collate some of the documents and data presented, I’m putting them up here. (I’m also sharing them because the Internet at our church is down — Sigh!).

When our study of deacons is done, I’ll come back and put up all the sermons, lessons, additional resources, and documents.

Sermons

Sunday School Lessons

Audio

Documents

Additional Documents

Forthcoming

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Everybody Deacon Now: The Call for All Christians to Serve in the Church

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11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of diakonia, for building up the body of Christ,
— Ephesians 4:11–12 —

For the last few months our church has been considering Paul’s first letter to Timothy and how the instructions for the household of God lead us to order our local church. As Paul unveils the purpose of his letter, “I am writing these things to you so that, . . . you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God” (1 Timothy 3:14–15).

Immediately before this purpose statement, Paul gives qualifications for elders (vv. 1–7) and deacons (vv. 8–13). And in our church we have focused a great amount of energy thinking about this office of the deacon. In fact, this Sunday at our member’s meeting we will present an update to the statement of faith and the constitution to bring our church order in greater alignment with Scripture.

That said, there is actually very little written about the “office” of deacon in the New Testament. An argument could even be made that the office of deacon is not called for like that of the overseer/elder/pastor. It is clearly not described in the same detail as the office of elder. There seems to be good reasons for this disparity, namely the need to have a clear and consistent teaching office in the church, even as the office of deacon is more flexible, need-based, and church-specific.

With all that in mind, it is helpful to go back to the Bible and see what it says about deacons (diakonos), deaconing (diakoneō), and the ministry of service (diakonia). When we do, we learn a great deal about what “deaconing” is—and what deaconing isn’t. In particular, we discover this word-group shows up 100 times in the New Testament. Yet, in all of those references, it only refers to the office of deacon 3 or 4 times, depending on how one understands Paul’s description of Phoebe (Rom. 16:1; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8, 12). Most often the word relates to service of all varieties (cf. 1 Cor. 12:5), especially service to relieve the physical needs of others. Continue reading

What Does Unity in the Church Look Like? Ten Truths from Ephesians 4

 

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And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
— Ephesians 4:11–16 —

Few things are more important for growth as a Christian than learning how to walk in unity with others. And, at the same time, few things more confused than discussions about unity in the church today. Indeed, how many seek Christian unity without the foggiest idea of what Scripture says about the church, and thus they seek unity in the church with definitions and desires formed without the light of Scripture.

Still, unity in the church is a goal that biblical churches must pursue. Jesus prayed for it (John 17), and Jesus died for it (Ephesians 2). And thankfully, Scripture speaks of it in passages like Ephesians 4. Therefore, consider ten truths that we find in Ephesians about what church unity is and is not.

  1. Unity is a gift from God.
  2. Unity is maintained, not created by man.
  3. Unity grows over time.
  4. Unity is most opposed by pride and self-interest.
  5. Unity is a uniquely Christian adornment.
  6. Unity requires a doctrinal center – the gospel.
  7. Unity does not mean uniformity.
  8. Unity depends on grace and gifts.
  9. Unity grows when it is stretched, pressured, and even threatened.
  10. Unity glorifies God and attracts unbelievers.

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Ten Things Ephesians Teaches About Christ and his Church

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So that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places, . . .
— Ephesians 3:10 —

The ESV Study Bible has a succinct list of ten ways Christ and his Church are related and described in the book of Ephesians (p. 2267). For anyone wanting to dig deeper into what Scripture says about God’s people, Christ’s body and bride, and the Holy Spirit’s temple, the book of Ephesians would be an important starting place. Keep an eye out for these verses (listed below) and you will gain great insight into how Paul understands the church for which Christ died and is now building.

Christ is the head of the church 1:22–23; 4:15; 5:23
Christ is the cornerstone of the church 2:20
Christ is the Savior and sanctifier of the church 5:23, 26–27
Christ gives the church ministry workers 4:11–16
Christ loved and sacrificed himself for the church 5:25
Christ nourishes and cherishes the church 5:29
the church and her members dwell and grow in Christ 2:21–22; 4:15
the church is a means through which God manifests his manifold wisdom 3:10
the church submits to Christ 5:24
the church is Christ’s body, and individual believers are members of his body 1:22–23; 3:6; 4:4, 16; 5:23, 30

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by Onur on Unsplash