Archive for September, 2009

“Was I Really Baptized?”, and Other (Quibbling?) Questions

Friday, September 25th, 2009

Over at the SBC Voices blog, they’re starting a new series of debates between fellow Baptists.  The mission statement requires that they be civil, biblical, non-personal 1000-word essays–enforced by the editors.  It looks to be interesting.

The first debate is over baptism and local church oversight.  Who performs baptisms?  Does it need to be done by a local church?  Can you baptize yourself?  Where the rubber meets the road: If you weren’t baptized by a church, should you be rebaptized?

I like the discussion.  Here are the links.  (I’ll try to add the rest, as they post more.)  As always, I comment under the name “Jugulum”.

  1. Diverse Voices Debate: Is Church Oversight Essential for Baptism?
  2. Diverse Baptists Debate: Church Oversight of Baptism- Foster’s Rebuttal of Miller
  3. A Response to the Baptism Oversight Debate

——————-

In my judgment, the case  for necessary church oversight isn’t strong.  But I want to make two “meta” comments about conversation itself, and one about the content of the debate.  (The specific observation is a quote from a comment I left at the first entry.)

The two general issues:

1.) Is it stupid even to be having this kind of debate?  Is it just quibbling?
2.) Even if we disagree with the other side’s final conclusion, we can still learn & grow from the principles & arguments they use.  (In this case: We can grow in understanding the symbolism & meaning of baptism, and think about how to preserve the richness of what God has given us.)

The specific comment:

3.) We should care about preserving & reflecting the symbolism of baptism in how we practice.  But “this preserves the symbolism better” doesn’t imply “it’s not valid without it.”  A comparison to the Lord’s Supper may help. (more…)

Bible Study, Community, and Orthodoxy

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Recently, I’ve been talking with some friends about some hard questions, and we turned to a particular chapter of Romans.  After I sent them a link discussing part of the passage, one of my friends started searching for other commentary about it.  But then he stopped, because, as he put it:

After that, I decided researching the passage would be counter-productive.  My goal is to understand the passage, not understand what scholars say about the passage.  I suppose I’m going on the assumption that if God is conveying truth, even someone as ignorant (unschooled) as myself should be able to understand at least the main point.

He then proceeded to read the chapter himself, think about it, and send an email to the rest of us explaining what he saw in the passage.

In thinking about his comments and his approach, I find myself both agreeing, and wanting to preserve a right place for commentary.  At the core of good Bible study is personal Bible study–you the Christian, with God, studying the Word and receiving from the Spirit.  It should never be less than that.  But Bible study should be more. It should include community & relationship, accountability, and connection with the rest of the Church–now and in the past.

Personal Bible Study

We’re supposed to pore over Scripture directly.  I think study Bibles aren’t very good for new Christians–they should be poring over Scripture, getting in the habit of looking there, first.  Not getting in the habit of answering every question by reading what other Christians say.  We shouldn’t depend on study notes to give us the answers–our first impulse shouldn’t be to look there, but rather to wrestle with the Word.  The same applies to commentaries.  We can’t let studying them replace Bible study.

Bible Study in Community

The Christian life isn’t about me & God, it’s about us & God.  We’re not supposed to be solo Christians.  That goes for Bible study, too.  It should be relational.  It’s not “me & my Bible & God alone in the woods”.  We study by ourselves (just like we pray by ourselves), but we shouldn’t stop there.  We need to do things in community, in fellowship.  Solo prayer & worship is important, but there’s also a richness to group prayer & worship–to the “one another” work of the Spirit.  Same with Bible study–there is richness and help in studying together.  Christ did not die to make solo Christians; he died to purify a people, to make a family, to make a Body of various parts joined together–who will be loving and serving and blessing each other, teaching each other, through the work of the Spirit.

So we talk about it, and you help me see what I might have missed, and vice versa.  Or you help me see that it doesn’t say what I thought, and vice versa.  If something seems obvious to me but you can’t see it at all… Then we need to step back and look again, together.  “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

Is the Bible Plain?

Community Bible study is part of accountability, and we all need it.  Because the Bible is written for us all to read, but there are lots of ways that we can get things wrong.  We have blind spots, we have preconceived ideas.  We fail to see things because we don’t want to, or we see things because we want to see them.  Or we just miss things for no apparent reason–even things that seem obvious after someone points it out.  And sometimes the Bible is hard to understand–it’s not written for scholars, but not everything is plain & easy.  As people say, “The main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things.”  The basics of the Gospel & following Christ are plain, but it’s also easy to miss things, and we need to help each other see more clearly.

So… I think Bible study should have steps.  (1) Spend time prayerfully studying the Word by yourself.  (2) Spend time studying it with other Christians.

Commentaries Are Christian Community, Too

“Studying it with other Christians” includes going out into our Christian community and study it with each other.  But commentaries are another way.

A commentary is just something that another Christian has written.  It might be quite helpful, and show you things in the passage that you missed.  It might tell you some helpful background info–something that would have been obvious to the original audience, but isn’t obvious to a 21st century American.  Or it might say things that are totally off-base.  Just like any time you study the Bible with another Christian.  It’s not a replacement for reading the Bible yourself, and you need to apply discernment to what you read.  But it can be very, very helpful.  Our fellow Christians can be very, very helpful.

Christians Who Aren’t Like Us

We all have blinders & bad assumptions–things that make us misunderstand Scripture, or read our theology into the text instead of reading it out of the text.  Those problems sometimes come from our cultural background.

But people from other cultures have different blinders.  We make different mistakes–and if we examine them together, we can help one another to see more clearly.

The more we listen to Christians who are very different from us, the more we will have iron sharpening iron.

So, it’s exciting that Christianity is growing so much in Africa and China.  I can’t wait to find out how they contribute to our understanding of what God has said–to see how they challenge the Western church’s priorities and assumptions.

The History of the Church

We also shouldn’t just read commentary from modern people.  We should be connected with the church as a whole, throughout history.  We should be grounded in history.  We should be aware of how Christians have wrestled with and answered questions in the past, and we should hear their voices as well.  Because:

  • Just as people from other cultures today have different blinders, so do people from the past.  They’re less likely to make our mistakes, and we’re less likely to make theirs.
  • If we really think the Bible is clear, do we think it is clear only to us, now?  If we think the Bible is saying something that no other Christian in the history of the world has seen, shouldn’t that make us wonder?
  • If we have the Holy Spirit, so did they.  If we are fallible, so were they.  If our fellow Christians today are worth listening to, so were they.

Let’s listen to the dead guys, too.

Catholics and Eastern Orthodox understand this point, but go too far.  They invest the history of the Church with too much authority, letting it move into the role of interpreting  for us, instead of with us.  But sometimes Protestants do a pendulum swing, too far in the other direction.

Only sometimes.  But it definitely happens.

We should draw on the wisdom of the Christians who have gone before us.  It’s one thing to look at it with caution and discernment; it’s another to throw it off entirely, like a teenager convinced of his parents’ irrelevance & foolishness.

Summary

The Holy Spirit has been teaching Christians from the Scripture for 2000 years, and it doesn’t make sense to cut ourselves off from that.  It is not “Me and my Bible alone in the woods with God.”  As we pray for God to help us understand his word, we should be plugged in directly to the Bible, and into our community, and into the broader community of Christians, living and dead.  Study the Bible directly, and then do it with other Christians.  We help keep each other from going off in weird directions.

New Features! (And more on Romans 9)

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

Two bits of news!

First, I finally replied to Bob, in our discussion of the church and Israel in Romans 9-11. I recap the situation, and then look more closely at Romans 9:24-27. I also include a couple diagrams to help visualize what I’m thinking vs what Bob is thinking. Here’s the direct link.

Second, I’ve recently added a few features to the blog, so I thought I’d point them out.

1.) “Recent Comments”. In the sidebar, there’s now a list of recent comments next to the list of recent posts.

2.) Threaded comments. I didn’t know, but apparently WordPress added threaded comments a year ago. But my theme didn’t have what it needed to use it. So I updated my theme this weekend, and now the threads work! Woo.

3.) Gravatars! Gravatar is a picture that accompanies your comments. Like a user-pic on a forum website. It stands for “globally recognized avatar”. Basically, you go to the Gravatar website, sign up for free using your email account, and upload a picture.  Then when you post a comment at gravatar-enabled websites, the image will show up.

4.) Lost the WYSIWYG editor. I had a plugin for a WYSIWYG editor for the comments–giving you buttons for bold, italics, etc. But it was breaking the threaded comments, so I had to turn it off. I might be able to replace it soon.

5.) Broken theme! Well, this is a bug, not a feature. For some reason, when updating my theme, a grey border appeared around the main column. I’ll try to get around to fixing it sometime.

Update:

6.) Whoops, I forgot one!  There is now a check-box when you leave a comment, which lets you sign up for email notifications when people reply.  That way you don’t have to remember to check the entry.