Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Light for the Journey

As Olivia and I prepare for our move to Richmond, Virginia, at the end of July, we've had to reckon with the fact that we'll need to find a new church--together. Which church will be not only the place for me, but the place for us? Of course, being somewhat fearful and prone to worry, this causes me all kinds of consternation: All churches are not alike; how shall we choose? Being a matter of contention and difference (though an important and practical one, I believe), baptism has occupied a lot of my thoughts, studies, and worries lately. What does it mean? What does baptism do? How should it be conducted? Who are the proper recipients? It's enough to drive even a person crazy! And all the more for me because, as a "J" on the Myers-Briggs type inventory, I have to have closure on something conceptual before I can confidently live it out. "It is not good to have zeal without knowledge!" is often my theme (Proverbs 19:2).*

But amid all the madness, my wise wife has had the guts and grace to keep me on the right track. She lovingly reminded me that to discern God's "will of direction" for our lives--including which church to join--is simply a matter of loving God with all our hearts and minds and being obedient to what light he has clearly given us already (cf. Deuteronomy 29:29; Philippians 3:15-16).** Included in the New Covenant is the promise that because God is for us, he guides us. We will hear his Spirit saying, "This is the way; walk in it" (Isaiah 30:21). This passage in Isaiah doesn't show some magic, mystical path like a labyrinthian British garden. Rather, it's a path of wisdom and worship, that is, fear-of-the-Lord (see v. 22). To know God's direction for our lives is simply to know what it means to love and serve him and our neighbors wholeheartedly.

The tricky thing is that this walking on this "way" of discipleship requires faith. The well-worn psalm lauds God's written Word as "a lamp to my feet and a light for my path" (Psalm 119:105). Of course, walking with a lamp to my feet doesn't illuminate a whole lot. I know where to place my foot next, but that's about it. Should I be afraid of what I cannot see? of a future which is uncertain? No. For though it is unknown and uncertain to us, it is known and certain to our loving Father who holds our lives in his hands. What he desires of us is to love him and walk in obedience to what we already know; and the rest he will reveal to us and teach us in his due time as is needed. "And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained" (Philippians 3:15b-16).

I want to have all things certain and known; I want them comfortable. In other words, I do not want to live as a servant under God's lordship, with him in control. But as God's good pleasure and purpose is "to bring about the obedience of faith," he is fully committed to teaching his people what they need to know in order to do his will--even if he may choose to do so only on the spot, just a step ahead of time.

*I previously wrote on this here.
**"Will of direction" is a term I heard from Kevin DeYoung. His new book Just Do Something is an excellent place to start for anyone wanting to know what it means to "find God's will for your life." I haven't read all of it, but the sermon series from which it sprang has been a big influence in my life.


Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks for the great comment on my blog. And now an interesting post over here.

I know this sounds too good to be true, but I think Olivia and you would both really like this book. He is a first rate scholar, and after I read the book I felt better about my position with believer's baptism, though Witherington himself actually opts for infant baptism. Best mediating book on the subject.

Of course I like to see good exegetical work done on relevant passages, and one of my favorite exegetes for this, on baptismal passages, is Gordon Fee. He is a first rate scholar, taking a second chair to none, in my book.

I'm just not sure, as I get older, that baptism is so cut and dried. But again, I'd really highly recommend you give the Witherington book a read.

More and more churches actually do both; I'm sure you know that. PCA churches, my own denomination does- actually required that a pastor is willing to do either, while holding to one or the other on biblical grounds. Not maybe neat and clean theologically. But the older I get the more I realize that there is much we just can't be 100% sure of, while by faith I am more and more certain of the truth as it is in Jesus. Just how Christians live that out may differ.....

As I remember I'll pray for you guys as you make that decision over time.

Andrew said...

Thanks, Ted. I think that this book by Witherington and McKnight's A Community Called Atonement would be really good books to read. You've certainly pressed them enough to where I feel like I will have to read them soon.

But soon is not now. I'm really starting to think that, as profitable as reading others' works can be, I just need to sit down with my Bible in prayer and come up with some conclusions of my own. After all, I only feel most convinced about what I've figured out on my own.

Andrew said...

To my knowledge the PCA does not, by the way, practice baptism of believers/confessors alone. Fred Malone, a former Presbyterian pastor, had to leave his post--albeit voluntarily--because he switched to credobaptism. I would say that you can hold to Westminster and credobaptism simultaneously; the London Baptist Confession of 1689 is the product of this. However, this really compromises Presbyterian ecclesiology and some views on the means of grace within the church.

Ryan P.T. said...

"To know God's direction for our lives is simply to know what it means to love and serve him and our neighbors wholeheartedly."

Which is...?

It's in these gray areas of Christian freedom, where undoubtedly we may choose wrong for reasons we cannot even comprehend (let grace abound!), that Luther's counsel to constipated Melanchthon has been a great comfort to me (and, indeed, to Bonhoeffer and countless others): sin boldly! And trust in Christ more boldly still.

Of course, you might want to find a church that actually encourages that kind of reckless, daring faith without accusing you of being "unregenerate." Could there be such a one?

Ryan P.T. said...


"More and more churches actually do both."

Well, of course! That's no new development. All your paedobaptist churches are not going to refuse to baptize someone who comes to faith later in life. It's the credobaptists who would turn off the faucet, as it were, limiting Baptism to rationally assenting, accountability-aged autonomous individuals.

Sorry, was that sass?

Ted M. Gossard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ted M. Gossard said...

I guess I'm going by memory, but Michael Card's church (PCA) in the Franklin, Tennessee area did both, I mean they accomodated those who did not believe in infant baptism- at one time. (MC still a member there, and last time I knew, a member of a racially mixed church as well, with an African-American pastor).

Ryan P.T.,
Give Witherington's book a read. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised because you get a lot for your money, a lot more than just teaching on baptism. Scot McKnight who himself is a credobaptist recommended it as the best book on the subject. And Witherington, as I said, comes out a paedo-baptist.

Also I do think I'm privileged to go to a church like you mention, which is open to believers thinking and living outside the box, provided Scripture is central in their commitment and endeavor.

Jessica said...

Halfmom said...

Humm - I'm looking forward to meeting your friend Ryan one day. What "discussions" you must have had!

Without taking the time to read it myself, what does dear old Grudem say on the subject? One camp or the other?

I do love the fact that OH can be OH and you not only "allow" it, you appreciate what it brings to your life.

Andrew said...


Which subject do you mean when you ask about Grudem's viewpoint--baptism or the way God directs our lives?

Halfmom said...

Humm - sorry - I was thinking of baptism, but now that you mention it, does Gruedem have commentary on "direction" as well? i don't remember that.

Andrew said...

Wayne Grudem believes water baptism is only for those who have already professed faith in Christ (credobaptism). He never really nails down what baptism means in the believer's life, in the church, or what happens to the believer at baptism, nor why it is said that baptism appears to actually do something in the believer's life (e.g., Acts 22:16; Rom. 6:3-11; Gal. 3:26-27). Nor does he explain the relationship between baptism with the Spirit and baptism with water. He simply says it's a sign that only professing believers undergo as a symbol of their union with Christ in his death and resurrection--which is now their own death and resurrection as well.

However, in his previous edition of Systematic Theology, he said that it was not something for churches to be divided over. In his new edition, he seems more vague about it and that ecclesiastical unity is unlikely. (John Piper, a credobaptist himself, wishes Grudem hadn't changed his position.)

Halfmom said...

sounds like you found it lacking in the things you wanted to think about.