Article XXIII-The Church-Baptism

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶124 The Church–Baptism

Water baptism is a sacrament of the church, commanded by our Lord, signifying acceptance of the benefits of the atonement of Jesus Christ to be administered to believers as declaration of their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior.

Baptism is a symbol of the new covenant of grace as circumcision was the symbol of the old covenant; and, since infants are recognized as being included in the atonement, they may be baptized upon the request of parents or guardians who shall give assurance for them of necessary Christian training. They shall be required to affirm the vow for themselves before being accepted into church membership.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. John 3:5; Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12-17; 9:18; 16:33; 18:8; 19:5; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27-29; Colossians 2:11-12; Titus 3:5.

If you want to get into some heated discussions with church people, bring up the topic of baptism. There are so many different understandings of what actually happens in the sacrament (or even whether it is a sacrament) that even usually docile people become irate.

The Free Methodist Church affirms and expects older people who become believers in Jesus Christ to be baptized. If a Church exists in communities where people are not yet Christian, and that Church is actually doing what it is commanded by Jesus Christ of spreading the Good News and introducing people to him, there ought to be adult converts. Therefore, there ought to be new believers getting baptized.

The Free Methodist Church affirms and expects Christian families to bring their children to be baptized as well. There are three main reasons for this belief. First, we stand in the main stream of the history of the Church for the past 2000 years in that we affirm and practice infant baptism. That is a position with a strong historical precedent. The Church in the most places in the most time touching the most Christian lives around the globe for the last 2000 years has baptized infants, and we remain faithful to that practice.

Yet we also know that just because something is ancient in its practice does not necessarily make it right. Therefore, second, we affirm that the world is made up of only two kinds of people: those in the Kingdom of God and those outside of the Kingdom of God. There is not a third category of “children of those in the Kingdom who are waiting their turn.”

Finally, we affirm and practice infant baptism for theological and biblical reasons. If all have sinned in Adam, that includes infants. Psychology teaches an age of accountability for our actions, but the Bible is clear that all have sinned. As well, entire households were baptized in Acts, and even Paul baptized the entire household of Stephanus in Corinth. And if baptism is truly the mark of the new covenant just as circumcision was of the old covenant (as referenced by the Colossians passage above), then there ought to be no reason to keep children out of the covenant since the same God instituted both covenants, and he is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Theologically, we believe that God is the primary mover in all of our relationships. God’s presence and grace go before us and we react and respond to it. Baptism of infants is our liturgical and ecclesiological way of showing our belief that God is the primary mover in our salvation. God’s grace is already being poured out on us, even in infancy.

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Article XXI-The Church-The Language of Worship

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶122 The Church–The Language of Worship

According to the Word of God and the custom of the early church, public worship and prayer and the administration of the sacraments should be in a language understood by the people.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Nehemiah 8:5, 6, 8; Matthew 6:7; 1 Corinthians 14:12-14.

The history of this short Article goes back to the beginning of the Protestant Reformation (something that “officially” began on October 31, 1517–exactly 500 years ago this year!). Prior to the Reformation, and even shortly after it, services were only conducted in Latin. Only the educated knew Latin any more, and the majority of people in Europe were not educated. Therefore most people did not understand one word during a worship service in the Church. Part of the Reformation was to not only have the Bible translated into local languages (English, German, French, etc.), but to have the worship services conducted in those languages. That is why this Article originally was created.

In more recent years it has been used as a basis for not allowing the speaking of tongues in worship or public prayer. In fact, the scriptural reference from 1 Corinthians gets to exactly that point. The Free Methodist Church does not deny the gift of tongues, but it does not encourage it within the context of worship. Most people who feel that speaking in tongues is an essential part of worship are already in congregations that feel the same way, so this still does not have much contemporary relevance on this topic.

The one place where this Article still has a need to speak to us today is with the topic of rhythmic and symbolic language. In other words, what types of music are appropriate for worship, and what types of symbolism or ritual is appropriate for worship? If we take this Article for what it says, our worship services ought to communicate the Gospel in such a way that people understand what is being said/sung/done. If they do not understand those things, then the worship service might just as well be in Latin.

This cuts both forwards and backwards. Younger generations do not understand much of what was in services years ago, and faithful older generations do not understand much of what is in services today. I adamantly maintain that worship is not evangelism–worship is God-focused and evangelism is people-focused–but there has to be pastoral consideration in trying to communicate what is happening in worship for the people who attend. If a group of refugees arrived from Syria in one of our congregations, we would try to communicate in Arabic so that they could worship. If younger people arrive in our congregations we have to communicate in a way they can understand. If older people arrive in our congregations we have to communicate in a way they can understand.

This puts the burden of thought, prayer, and action on the pastor and those involved in worship planning. Simply choosing to have a “traditional” or a “contemporary” service is a cop-out when it comes to having a worship service in a language that the people understand.

Texas Planned Parenthood Decision and a Christian Response

Before I begin this post in response to the indictment decision of the grand jury in Texas against the anti-abortion activists instead of Planned Parenthood I would like to make two points very clear.

40th Anniversary March for Life in 2013. My family was here and did the March.

40th Anniversary March for Life in 2013. My family was here and did the March.

  1. I am against abortion. I was adopted at birth in 1975, two years after Roe v. Wade, and have a personal stake in the decision not to abort unplanned pregnancies. I am also a father of four and cannot even conceptualize having ended any of their lives before they had a chance to live.
  2. This is one response, not the only response, a Christian can have to this news. Obviously I believe I am correct, otherwise I would not be posting this piece. Yet I am not narrow-minded enough to think that my opinion is the only one that matters in the world.

So, now that I have made those two points, here is my take on what Christians ought to do in response to this issue.

STOP trying to have the government regulate everyone in the country to follow a Christian outlook on life! Abortion is morally reprehensible. That is a given. Any society that would willingly kill its own children is a weak and selfish society. It is a barbaric practice that we sterilize by performing it in a medical setting and calling it a procedure. It is infanticide, plain and simple.

Yet we Christians would not have to bring legal action if we would spend more time discipling the people we have to live by a higher standard than what is legal in our country. We would not have to bring legal action if Christians took seriously Thou shalt not kill and Whatever you did to the least of these you did to me. And We would not have to bring legal action if we not only lived this way, but encouraged others to convert and live this way with us. Planned Parenthood would disappear if there was no market for their services because there was no demand by potential patients and customers. It would not matter that abortion is technically legal in the US if our society did not avail themselves of the procedure.

We need to quit trying to have the government, at whatever level, try to force us by law to live a certain way. If something is morally wrong and sinful, convert others and train ourselves to live to the higher standard God calls us to live. This is how the Church functioned in the first 300 years of its existence. We did not petition the Roman government to change laws. We simply lived according to God’s vision of life. And at that time we were persecuted, had our property confiscated, our rights revoked, imprisoned, and killed. Yet we never led a legal drive to change the laws of the Empire. We simply lived as Christ taught us. That was what converted the Empire, not law suits.

Just a thought.

Revelation 2:20 and Tolerating Heresy

It always amazes me how many Christians will tolerate heresy within their churches and denominations. Sure, there can be differences of opinions on many different aspects of the faith which are not heretical, but there are denominations that have people in leadership who deny the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, and other central aspects of God.

The letter to Thyatira, contained within Revelation 2, deals with this issue. Jesus dictates seven letters to seven different churches, and this one has issues like this. Jesus praises the church in Thyatira, and then he follows it up with this:

20 But I have this against you: you put up with that woman, Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. You allow her to teach and to mislead my servants into committing sexual immorality and eating food sacrificed to idols.

Jesus counts it as a sin for righteous and faithful people to tolerate heresy being taught within the Church.

This Christmas, as we celebrate the Incarnation of the Living God, we would do well to remember that differences of opinion are one thing, heresy is something completely different. A good starting point to tell the difference would be a few questions:

  • Does this opinion contradict who the Church proclaims God is? Does it deny the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus Christ, the personhood of the Holy Spirit? Does it try to blend the identity of our God with other gods through teachings, rituals, or other corporate events?
  • Does this opinion lead people to behavior or condone behavior that the Church has taught is immoral?

If any of these questions can be answered yes, then you may want to take Jesus’ warning to Thyatira seriously for yourself.

Jolly old St. Nicholas did not tolerate heresy. He is famous today for giving gifts to children, but he was also famous during his lifetime in the 300s for punching Arius at the Council in Nicaea in 325 when he heard Arius’ position that Jesus was not God but was created.

Nicholas-Icon-Meme-2

Hebrews 6:1-3 and Deepening Faith and Growing in Christ

Have you ever met someone who was a Christian, or at least claimed to be one, and never really changed? They never grew in their faith. They never seemed to have more love of God or neighbor in their hearts. And they always seem to talk about the same subjects when it comes to religion?

This is not what Christianity is supposed to be about. Christianity is about being recreated in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ one step at a time. It is about changing from the inside out, through the power of God, into the person we know we ought to be. It is about allowing God to live in us so that his love can be shed abroad in our lives and the world around us.

Interestingly, the Bible knows it can be difficult for people to get past the initial stages of the faith and grow in Christ. Hebrews encourages Christians:

So let’s press on to maturity, by moving on from the basics about Christ’s word. Let’s not lay a foundation of turning away from dead works, of faith in God, of teaching about ritual ways to wash with water, laying on of hands, the resurrection from the dead, and eternal judgment—all over again. We’re going to press on, if God allows it.

Faith. Not trying to earn our salvation. Arguments over baptism. Arguments over ordination. What the resurrection is. The end of the world. This is like a laundry list of topics most churches and denominations argue over and discuss. Frequently. As a matter of fact, if the majority of Christians stopped preaching, teaching, and discussing these topics, I do believe most pastors would be silent and most congregations could hear a pin drop in them.

Perhaps the reason we do not have so many more people living out the Christian faith in such obvious ways as to be considered salt of the earth people or living saints is because they are not moving past the basics about Christ’s word. Perhaps if we spent more time trying to grow deeper in our faith and less time talking or arguing about these topics, we would see more changed lives. Perhaps if we tried to seriously become disciples of Jesus and less time trying to prove why other groups of Christians are wrong, we would see the Kingdom of God come with power.

Just a thought.

1 Timothy 2:11-12 and Paul’s Opinion of Women

no-girls-allowed1Paul’s opinion of women is a difficult topic for people in the Church who do not take the time to dig into it fully. So many people get an idea or opinion on their own and then go to the Bible and find texts to support their opinion, or they read the Bible in such a way that they get passages in short snippets and out of context, which can say something completely different.

Take the passage in Romans 7, for example. There are people who read this and think that a defeated struggle against sin is what Paul experienced in his life, doing what he did not want to do. Yet that thought runs absolutely counter to everything Paul preached and taught throughout the rest of that letter, as well as everything else he taught. When we remember that Romans is a letter that was meant to be read all at once, we can see that Paul, in Romans 7, is using this language to describe someone who knows s/he needs a savior, but is not yet in Christ. The life for those who are in Christ is described both before and after this chapter. In context, Romans 7 says something completely different than what many claim it means.

The same is true for the status or allowed roles for women in the Church in 1 Timothy 2:

11 A wife should learn quietly with complete submission. 12 I don’t allow a wife to teach or to control her husband. Instead, she should be a quiet listener.

This seems fairly straightforward, yet it is completely contrary to Paul’s injunctions to women in 1 Corinthians that when they pray or prophesy in Church their heads should be covered. It also ignores the women deacons and apostles commended by Paul in Romans 16. Not to mention the fact that this flies completely in the face of the spiritual truth Paul loudly proclaimed in Galatians that in Christ there is neither male nor female.

This passage is a part of a particular letter written to a particular person in response to a particular issue. It needs to be read as a letter–all at once. When that happens, one can see this passage is linked to a larger issue throughout the letter:

(1:3-5) When I left for Macedonia, I asked you to stay behind in Ephesus so that you could instruct certain individuals not to spread wrong teaching. They shouldn’t pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. Their teaching only causes useless guessing games instead of faithfulness to God’s way of doing things. The goal of instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.

 

(2:11-12) 11 A wife should learn quietly with complete submission. 12 I don’t allow a wife to teach or to control her husband. Instead, she should be a quiet listener.

 

(4:6-7) If you point these things out to the believers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus who has been trained by the words of faith and the good teaching that you’ve carefully followed. But stay away from the godless myths that are passed down from the older women.

 

(6:20-21) 20 Timothy, protect what has been given to you in trust. Avoid godless and pointless discussions and the contradictory claims of so-called “knowledge.” 21 When some people adopted this false knowledge, they missed the goal of faith.

Certain women in Ephesus were teaching myths that were contrary to the faith. They were teaching these things in the Church and Paul left Timothy to put an end to it. It is these women that are forbidden to teach in the Church and are told to learn from their husbands, because they themselves do not know enough yet to be teachers. Otherwise they would not have gotten tangled up in these godless myths.

When we find a passage in Scripture that does not seem to make sense with the rest of the tone of the Bible, we must try to read it in context and see if it says what it seems to say. Many times, by reading the passage in the full context in which it was written, we will find that it agrees with everything else we read in the Bible. Paul’s opinion of women is case in point.

1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 and Crimes Against Humanity

P12_0Crimes against humanity are usually categorized as war crimes that targeted civilians or genocide. They can happen in a time of war or peace, and are when there is a wholesale policy of dehumanizing a certain group of people and taking action against that group. The title for the crime is because we believe, as a human race, that when one part of us suffers in this manner, it is an attack and a crime against us all.

While Paul did not have in mind the International Criminal Court, he did detail a crime against humanity:

They don’t please God, and they are hostile to the entire human race 16 when they try to stop us from speaking to the Gentiles so they can be saved.

Paul was speaking here about the non-believing Jewish people in Judea who were opposed to the Gospel. By attacking the prophets, killing Jesus, and seeking to prevent the spread of the Gospel to Jews as well as Gentiles, they were hostile to the entire human race. This is because only the Christian Gospel message can truly bring healing and wholeness to the brokenness of the world and in each one of us.

In this line of reasoning, anyone who impedes the spread of the Christian message is an enemy of humanity and has committed a crime against humanity. This is not to say that those who oppose the spread of the Christian faith would ever be brought up on charges at the Hague. Our society has decided that it can do well without any one religion being promoted. Ironically, that is a crime against humanity as well, from this biblical point of view.

Do not be complicit in this crime. Do not be a co-conspirator with those who seek to keep the Christian message marginalized. Share your faith and the reason for the hope in you with others around you. Some may think you are weird or strange. Others may think you are judgmental and self-righteous. Yet those uninformed slanders are nothing compared to the charge of being an enemy of the entire human race. Do not commit a crime against humanity. Tell people about Jesus.