Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fathers, Do Not Provoke Your Children to Anger ...

"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." (Ephesians 6:4)

A lot has been written about Paul's exhortation to raise our children "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (KJV).  (For an excellent book on this, read Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp.)  But I hear very little about what it means to not provoke our children to anger.  And since they're set in contrast to one another--that is, godly discipline and instruction must somehow be the opposite of parenting that exasperates children--we cannot do the one if we don't understand the other.  While I'm hardly an expert and have only officially been a dad for fifteen days, here are a few thoughts that have come to my mind as I've chewed on what this means.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ben Witherington on Baptism

"[I]t seemed unlikely that the church would get very far in its discussion of the matter unless it recognized that no one has managed to avoid adapting the New Testament teaching on baptism without certain theological aberrations" (Troubled Waters, p. 2).

"The fact is, no New Testament document addresses itself to water baptism for its own sake.  It is always mentioned as an illustration or exhortation to make some other point. ... [A]ny deductions about correct Christian practice of water baptism are drawn not from clear-cut prescriptive statements in the New Testament about how one ought to perform the rite, but from what one can conclude from various descriptive statements and theologoumena that reveal who was baptized and what it meant. ... Thus, any evaluation of the New Testament evidence must proceed cautiously, recognizing that deducing a normative practice from primarily descriptive or purely theological statements is no easy task." (pp. 7, 9)

How true.  As time and again I've returned to the Scriptures over whether or not we ought to baptize our newborn son in his infancy, I'm becoming more and more convinced that neither Baptists nor Presbyterians have it right (and they're about the closest we have to the biblical doctrine, while taking very different viewpoints).  At best, both are adaptations of what little teaching we do have about baptism, set in contexts often far different from the spread of the gospel to Jew-Gentile assemblies in the first century.  When I try to read either position back into the New Testament, both end up with significant inconsistencies, especially regarding what to do with ensuing generations born and raised within the church community--a scenario that is not explicitly addressed by the Bible.  It's like trying to read Genesis to settle arguments on how God created the world, considering that the creation accounts and all references to creation are written for polemical or ethical reasons.  What to do?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

It's a Boy!

Welcome to the world, EPHRAIM LOUIS HALL!
Our first child was a healthy baby boy born Friday, January 13, here in Richmond, Virginia.  Ephraim weighed 7 pounds, 11.5 ounces, with a length of 21 inches.  After Ephraim was past his due date, the doctor said we needed to induce labor.  The whole induction and labor process took three days, and labor itself was over 36 hours.  My wife Olivia is a real warrior!

"Is not Ephraim my dear son,
the child in whom I delight?
Though I often speak against him,
I still remember him.
Therefore my heart yearns for him;
I have great compassion for him,"
declares the LORD.
(Jeremiah 31:20)

We named him Ephraim ("fruitful") for several reasons:

(1) We want our home to be a godly home where the peace, love, and joy of the gospel bear fruit.  Throughout the Bible, the godly home is portrayed as one of fecundity, fruitfulness, and blessing (see Psalm 128).

(2) As we raise our son in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4), we pray that he will become someone who trusts in the Lord and delights in his law, and so never fails to bear the fruits of Christlike character (Psalm 1; Jeremiah 17:7-8; Galatians 5:22-23).

(3) Throughout the Bible, Ephraim (Israel) is the wayward child of God, his faithless people.  But God couldn't forsake his beloved child, after whose heart he yearns (see Jeremiah 31:20 above and the entire book of Hosea).  The name Ephraim is a reminder to us to keep God's persistent, unfailing love at the center of our parenting.  Rather than jinxing our child with such a name (which is faulty superstition based on fear, not faith), the more we keep the gospel central and let it shape how we treat this child, the more likely it will be that he too will fall in love with his God.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Some Notes on Household Baptisms

One of the common criteria used in debates over who should be baptized (that is, only professing believers, or also their children) is the accounts of household baptisms in the New Testament. (See my previous post.) One's "household" (Greek oikos) referred generally to their dependent family in an immediate and certain sense, but also possibly any other voluntary bondservants pledged to their care. There are five explicit household baptisms mentioned: that of Cornelius (Acts 10:44-48), Lydia (16:15), the Philippian jailer (16:31-34), Crispus (18:8 with 1 Cor. 1:14), and Stephanas (1 Cor. 1:16). Presumably the household of Gaius was also baptized, because his name is included between the two others whose households were baptized (1 Cor. 1:14-16).

Baptists try to argue that everyone who was in the household believed and professed faith, therefore giving only a pattern of "believers-only baptism" (called credobaptism, baptism upon professing a creed or statement of faith). Reformed/Presbyterian and Methodist folks use these accounts to say that the household head's faith reckoned the whole household under covenant membership, so the whole family was baptized regardless of whether or not they believed. This would include the baptism of any infants or young children if present (paedobaptism). Who's right?

Monday, January 2, 2012

You and Your Household Will Be Saved

While we wait for our child to be born any day now (seriously, kid, would you get a move on?), I'm finding particular encouragement for parenting through the "household" accounts in Acts (10:44-48; 11:12-18; 16:15, 30-34; 18:8), 1 Corinthians (1:14-16; 16:15), and 2 Timothy (1:16).

"And [Cornelius] told us how he had seen an angel stand in his house and say, 'Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message through which you will be saved, you and all your household." (Acts 11:13-14)

"Then [the jailer] brought [Paul and Silas] out and said, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?' And they said, 'Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.'" (Acts 16:30-31)

It's amazing how many households, that is, families, all came to faith in Christ in one fell swoop. The New Testament records at least five examples of this happening: the households of Cornelius (Acts 10:44-48; 11:12-18), Lydia (Acts 16:15), the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:30-34), Crispus (Acts 18:8; 1 Cor. 1:14), Stephanas (1 Cor. 1:16; 16:15), and perhaps Gaius (1 Cor. 1:14). In fact, in every NT narrative where a Gentile convert's household was present, the entire family was baptized (presumably they all trusted Christ or assented to discipleship).* (Perhaps I'll write more later about the relevance of household baptisms for present-day practice.)

What's even more stunning is that twice someone is given the explicit assurance that through the gospel message their whole family would be saved (see Acts 11:14 and 16:31 above). There is no way around these passages: the men were personally told that through belief in the gospel their households too would be saved. Not could be saved if perhaps they believed. "You will be saved, you and your household." Of course these people weren't saved apart from faith in any automatic fashion by belonging to the family of a godly person. But I'm encouraged by what Cornelius and the jailer do: They hear the offer of salvation through Jesus Christ and the assurance that the gospel would be powerful and effective for their loved ones, and then they bring the bearer of that message (Peter, or Paul and Silas) into their homes to share the good news of Christ with their families there. And lo and behold, their families believed too.