Sunday, June 29, 2008

Hope for Anglicans

Perhaps from a desire for ecumenical unity, I have been following the ups and downs of the global Anglican Communion for the past few years. As you may be aware, deep-seated controversies have arisen between conservatives and liberals among the Anglican churches (including the Church of England and the Episcopal churches in North America). The real issue at stake is the authority of Scripture and its traditional, orthodox interpretations by church leadership. This has shown itself most painfully among the liberals in their muddling of sexual standards, going so far as to bless same-sex unions and ordain clergy who openly practice a gay lifestyle.

Most recently, the conservative/orthodox GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference) met in boycott of the Lambeth conference, held every ten years. As I read through the most recent updates of this conference on BBC News, three things struck me. (1) In reading the GAFCON statement, I was amazed by the sense in which their council embodied both a commitment to the purity of the gospel under the authority of canonical Scripture, as well as eagerness to "maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3). Of course, this meeting was not quite on par with Acts 15 or the seven ecumenical councils that defined historic Christian orthodoxy in Christianity's first millenium (or four councils, as the GAFCON statement claims). But I sense a similar spirit in which such "apostolic" things are still going on today, the Holy Spirit guiding and purifying Christ's body from all defilement.

(2) I am amazed at how far some of the liberals' understanding of biblical doctrine departs from orthodoxy. Conservatives such as me are perplexed at how anyone can openly bastardize "clear teachings" from the Bible. (See especially Bishop Andrus's last point here, concerning the Great Commission.) But I'm learning that what's always at stake in these debates is whether or not we presuppose the authority of God's Word over us and our own reasoning and human principles (cf. Colossians 2:8).

(3) The Anglicans pushing for orthodoxy and loving reform in the Communion are by and large from "Global South" countries, namely, those in Africa. The doctrinal and moral collapse and "enfeebled witness" of the European and North American churches shows that we are no longer in a Christianized realm. The heart of Christianity is moving southward more and more. This is certainly an indictment of compromise--Christ removing unfaithful churches' lampstands, as it were (Revelation 2:5). But is is also a glorious sign of the gospel's triumph; the message of Christ will not be snuffed out by the world. "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5). Though weaknesses and syncretitistic compromise are ailing parts of the Communion and thereby weakening the church as a whole, yet other parts of the body are growing in health and strength. I especially praise the Anglican leaders in Zimbabwe who are fighting against the despotism of Robert Mugabe, who won another rigged election and was sworn in on the Bible. Apparently Mugabe believes only divine action can overturn his rule--and it shall.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

"Give Thanks in All Circumstances"

At the present time, it's looking like Olivia and I might be stuck states apart for another year, she in Chicago and I in Richmond. I have a June 30 deadline to be released from my contract with Henrico County. But last week, when our frustrations and anxieties were about to get the better of us, I noticed a Bible passage I had written on my kitchen whiteboard: "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). I had to pause and think: Why do I possibly have to be joyful and give thanks about in our circumstances? And why is it that just now did I pay attention to what I've had written on my whiteboard for months? You think you're pretty funny, eh, God? Though I don't think it's necessary to share a ton about us, I think posting a few things that came to mind while praying with Olivia later that night would be worth passing on. Perhaps this will help you, too, to be thankful and joyful in whatever is happening in your own life.

(1) It's a near miracle that Olivia and I ever met in the first place, let alone grew in a relationship for this long while separated by such a gulf. Everyone else says that long-distance relationships are certainly improbable and unlikely to succeed, if not impossible.

(2) Back in the winter we were going through some times of deep uncertainly (chiefly on my end), over which I nearly called it all off. But spring break was a renewing blast, and we've only grown since then.

(3) We've managed to grow in patience and willingness to understand one another's needs and concerns.

(4) We're learning our role as God's created servants--the life we were made for. As we are broken of our ability to control every aspect of our lives and relationship according to our own timetables, God is teaching us that it is he who is in control. As our Lord, we cannot even begin to call into question his wisdom and decisions for us. His thoughts and ways far surpass ours and beyond suspicion; our role is simply to accept it all with gratitude and awe. (This is essentially the message of the whole book of Job, especially chapters 38-41.)

(5) Duh! I have a great, attractive girl with an infectious laugh, a bright smile, beautiful eyes, and lush blonde hair. She loves baseball and the outdoors, wants to do missions, loves the Lord, treasures the Word, and speaks to me God's truth where it's needed. She's patient with me, takes an interst in my activities and pursuits, and even finds me attractive (short height and decreasing musculature included).

What do you have to be thankful for today?

(6) . . . And could I forget? In typical "God fashion," as he waits until the last moment to stretch our faith and force us to prayer, two schools contacted me today about interviewing for science teaching openings! Thanks to any and all who have prayed for this.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Baptism VI: Baptism is Eschatological

Now that school is out for the summer and I have a little more time on my hands, I’m picking up where I left off several months ago in my discussion of the sacrament of Christian baptism.

In Titus 3 Paul tells of how God mercifully saved us “through the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (vv. 5-7).

What is this “washing of regeneration” through which God has saved us? That is, what is regeneration, and how is it a “washing”? In a word, regeneration or rebirth is the work of the “living water” of the Holy Spirit in uniting us to Jesus Christ. In union with him by faith, his Spirit not only cleanses from the stain of sin (as in our sinful nature, not just sinful deeds), but he also remakes us as God’s children for “newness of life” in Christ (cf. Rom. 6:3-4). Commenting on John 3:3-8, John Murray explains being "born of water and the Spirit” in this way, which certainly applies equally well to Titus 3:5:

Entrance into the kingdom of God could only be secured by purification from the defilement of sin. The water of purification is as it were the womb out of which must emerge the new life which gives entrance into and fits for membership in the kingdom of God. This is the purificatory aspect of regeneration. Regeneration must negate the past as well as reconstitute for the future. It must cleanse from sin as well as recreate in righteousness. (Redemption Accomplished and Applied, p. 98)

This sounds an awful lot like Noah and the flood, in which God also judged and renewed by water. He erased the old world in which sin abounded in all its ugliness and rebellion and simultaneously re-created the world, as it were, in hope and peace. Water both wiped out the old in judgment as well as birthed the new. Peter teaches this in saying that “the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and . . . by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished” (2 Pet. 3:5-6).

But Peter also explicitly says that the Noahic flood was a shadow or type that finds its fulfillment in Christian baptism. “In which [the ark] a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you--not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:20-21, NRSV).* Baptism is an even greater saving and recreating event than the Flood ever was!

So we see that baptism involves a watery “flood” that condemns unrighteousness and recreates in righteousness and hope. Even though God will again destroy the world, he will recreate it as “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:7, 13). Interestingly, Jesus speaks of this same event in Matthew 19:28 as “the regeneration” (Greek palingenesia, “rebirth”; ESV “the new world,” NIV “the renewal of all things”). The only other NT use of palingenesia is in Titus 3:5. Our spiritual rebirth is a foretaste of the great recreation of the coming age (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15), the future reaching back into the present.

But if this regenerating salvation-flood that eradicates that old and forms the new finds its fulfillment in the waters of baptism, in what way can we link baptism with the “washing of regeneration” in Titus 3:5? Peter explicitly states that baptism does not have its efficacy in the outward washing itself (1 Pet. 3:21); the water works only by the word of God (2 Pet. 3:5). It is perhaps best, then, to understand it this way: Just as washing with water is seen and experienced visibly in baptism, so is the inner, spiritual cleansing promised in the gospel visibly offered to believe in. For all who by God’s grace repent and trust in Christ, they are not merely washed with water externally; they are also cleansed within. Thus we can call it a “washing of regeneration.” (See also Ezekiel 36:25-29a, where cleansing, rebirth, water, and the Holy Spirit are all linked in God's new covenant promises.)

God does not sport with us by unmeaning figures, but inwardly accomplishes by his power what he exhibits by the outward sign; and therefore, baptism is fitly and truly said to be “the washing of regeneration.” . . . It is therefore the Spirit who regenerates us, and makes us new creatures [not the water ritual itself]; but because his grace is invisible and hidden, a visible symbol of it is beheld in baptism. (John Calvin, Commentary on Titus)

Note also that this “washing of regeneration” is done by the Holy Spirit, who is “poured out on us richly” (Tit. 3:6). Where else do we read of the Spirit being “poured out”? Pentecost. When the apostles begin preaching of Christ in many languages, it is because God had fulfilled his promise to pour out his Spirit on all people—a promise to be fulfilled only in “the last days” (Acts 2:16-21, 33; cf. Joel 2:28-32). This outpouring sheds abroad God’s love in our hearts, marking us no longer as slaves but as his children, heirs in hope of our eternal inheritance.

Therefore we can say that baptism is eschatological. (Eschatology is the study of the “last things,” the future kingdom of God.) It’s not so important to think about the link between baptism and the future as it is to realize that the regeneration in Christ it signifies is both real and necessary for entering the kingdom. And it is a regeneration not somewhere off in the distance, but one that has happened to you if you believe in Jesus. You have a new hope and a new identity. A new power is at work within you, and sin no longer has mastery over you. The coming destruction of sin and rebirth in everlasting life and righteousness are offered and pledged in baptism to all who embrace Jesus as their Savior and Lord—and for those of us who do, we possess even now the beginnings of our great future hope.


*I prefer the NRSV over the ESV here because it more clearly indicates that baptism is the antitype (Greek antitupon) of the Flood. A type is a pattern or foreshadowing that finds its deeper fulfillment in a future counterpart, its antitype. Think of the type as the mold into which a plaster sculpture is poured; it provides the shape but lacks the substance. The antitype is the plaster that fills the mold's form. This means that the events of the Flood were always meant to point toward their greater, eternally significant counterpart, baptism.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Four More Days!

I have only four more days of school, and my first year as a teacher will be over! Hopefully then I'll have more time to think and write, especially as I finish up some reading from class and commence studying the book of Genesis. But until then, I feel like I've either been so busy with other things (mentally and emotionally, at least)--namely, so-far-unsuccessfully trying to find a new job in the Chicagoland area--that I haven't thought of anything creative, new, or otherwise beneficial to post on here.
My third-period chemistry students sporting the tie-dyed shirts they made.

It really has been a blessing to look back on this year. It's pretty amazing to look back and realize how much smoother everything has become about being a teacher: planning lessons, grading work, keeping on top of absent students, tackling the VA Standards of Learning (SOL) tests (94% pass rate!), and all that. I remember how back in the fall I was freaking out all the time, constantly fatigued and stressed out, with a new challenge every day. Every day is still a challenge, and hormonal, emotional teens will never cease being teens; but it's easier. And best of all, I survived. Olivia reminded me of the encouraging fact that no matter what's on the horizon, I'll never be a first-year teacher again. The question is now: Where will I be a second-year teacher? (Thank God that at least my contract with Hermitage High School/Henrico County has been enthusiastically renewed, and that I like Richmond and HHS. T-minus one day until my contract is due . . . .)

Wouldn't you want to move 900 miles for this girl, too?
Apparently we are "sickeningly photogenic."