Month: May 2014

Introducing the Church Fathers – Maximus of Turin

ImageThere is not much surviving information concerning the life of Maximus of Turin.  He was born sometime in the mid to late 4th century (estimated about 380 AD) and died in the mid 5th century (estimated about 465 AD).  We was an Italian bishop and theologian.  According to Patrick Comerford…”He (Maximus of Turin) is the author of numerous discourses, including 118 homilies, 116 sermons, and six treatises or tracts.” The selection chosen below is from “Sermon 85.3” and discusses the the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18), the battle narrative of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17) and weaves them together through the person and work of Jesus Christ (Psalms 118:22, 1 Peter 2:7-8). The ability to find Jesus in the midst of Old Testament narrative was commonplace with our church fathers but sadly, has become a lost art amongst 21st century pastors and theologians.  The hope of this series is not only to bring attention to the writings of these torch bearers of the faith, but to also to help restore the lost art of revealing Jesus in the Old Testament.

“Therefore, brothers, let us arm ourselves with heavenly weapons for the coming judgement of the world: let us gird on the breastplate of faith, protect ourselves with the helmet of salvation, and defend ourselves with the word of God as with a spiritual sword.  For the one who is arrayed with these weapons does not fear present disturbance and is not afraid of future judgement, since holy David, protected with his devotion, killed the very strong and armed Goliath without weapons and struck down the warlike man, girt about with defenses on all sides, by the strength of his faith alone.  For although David did not put on a helmet, strap on a shield, or use a lance, he killed Goliath.  He killed him, however, not with an iron spear but with a spiritual sword, for although he appeared weaponless in the eyes of human beings, yet he was adequately armed with divine grace. But the spiritual sword itself was not a sword, since it was not by the sword but by a stone that Goliath died when he was struck down. We read in the Scriptures that Christ is figuratively designated by the word stone, as the prophet says: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the head of the corner.” Therefore when Goliath was struck by a stone, he is struck down by the power of Christ.  And in what part of the body is he struck?  On the forehead, for when the sacrilegious man is struck, there Christ was absent, and where his end comes upon him, there the sign of salvation is not to be found. For although Goliath was protected by weapons on all sides, still his forehead was exposed to death because it did not carry the Savior’s seal, and therefore he is slain in the spot where he is found to be bare of God’s grace.  But there is no one who does not realize that this took place figuratively.  For David had also put on armor beforehand but, since he was so heavy and awkward in it that he could hardly walk, he removed it at once, signifying that the weapons of the world are vain and superfluous things and that the person who chooses to involve themselves in them will have no unimpeded road to heaven, since he will be too heavy and encumbered to walk.  At the same time this teaches us that victory is not to be hoped for from arms alone but is to be prayed for in the name of the Savior.”  Sermon 85.3

Christian Baptism Series – Part 5 – What Does Baptism Do?


What does baptism do?
There are many verses that define what baptism is and does.  These verses are where this post will begin.

Acts 2:38-39
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”6:3-5

Collosians 2:11-12
In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Acts 22:16
And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’

Titus 3:4-7
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and 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.

1 Peter 3:18-22
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, 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, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

John 3:5
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

Each of these verses clearly proclaim that baptism actually does something. These verses state that in baptism there is not only the gift of salvation through forgiveness of sins, but also the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Baptism is pure gospel plain and simple. It is not something that I do. It is something done to me. I cannot baptize myself, as I must to be baptized. I cannot remove my sins, only Jesus’ death and resurrection can. I also cannot circumcise my heart (without hands) as the Colossians passage says.  No one can circumcise my heart (without hands) apart from God Himself. So where do I go to have my heart circumcised? The waters of baptism.

It’s just water though right?

Yes. It is just water, but the water isn’t the active ingredient; the word is. The 1 Peter passage says that baptism is not for removal of dirt from the body but for true salvation. What makes the water efficacious is the word of God. Scripture. When the water is combined with the word, baptism is efficacious. Promises are made by God through the means of baptism and we receive the gifts of that promise upon coming in contact with the water because the word is tied to it and the word never lies.  Interestingly enough, American Evangelicals who discount efficacious baptism as salvivic, have no problem when salvation comes by the professed word.  Romans gives a clear look at how the process of hearing the word is a means of grace as it gifts faith. Romans 10:17 says…

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

Now combine what was read in Romans 10:17 with what is said in Matthew 28:19-20…

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

So one disciples are made by teaching and faith comes by hearing. That is extremely clear and is generally agreed upon across denominational lines. The question is how is this different from baptism? The words I teach are just words right? I speak words everyday and they do not contain life. My words are no different than water. What gives my words life and efficacy to instill faith is the promise found in these two verses. God’s promise that faith comes by hearing the word professed is a means of dispensing grace just like God’s promise that baptism is for the forgiveness of sins and the installation of the Holy Spirit is a means of dispensing grace. The promise is faith and the means is teaching as confirmed by the Word. Likewise, the promise is forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit and the means is water in the name of our triune God as confirmed in his word (Matthew 28:19-20). As this thought is carried forward throughout scripture, it becomes rather clear that God has always worked this way.

In Genesis 6:14-22, God attached His word to a coffin shaped boat known as the Ark…

In Exodus 30:17-21, God attached His Word to a bronze basin and water…

In Exodus 12:1-20, God attached His Word to the blood of a lamb wiped on a door post…

In Exodus 14:15-16, God attached His Word to the staff of Moses…

In Levitcus 13:6, God attached His Word to water applied on the 7th day…

In Levitcus 16:20-28, God attached His Word to water…

In Numbers 19:11-13, God attached His Word to water applied on the 3rd & 7th day…

In Numbers 21 God attached His Word to a bronze serpent…

In 2 Kings 5 God attaches His Word to the Jordan River where Naaman bathed 7 times to be healed.

God attaching His Word to a material object as a means of grace isn’t a novel idea. It doesn’t mean the object holds any power, only that it has power because of what God’s word says. When these Old Testament verses are studied, it is discovered that each of them either deal with purification or salvation (It could be argued that the Ark and high priest purification could be representative of both purification and salvation).  For the purification verses, did the water cleanse or did God’s word combined with the water cleanse?  For the salvation verses, did the Ark, lamb’s blood, staff or bronze serpent save or did God’s word combined with them save? The promises were always transferred to the recipient because God’s word described how his promises were to be received.  Therefore, if Moses held up a wooden serpent instead of a bronze, the healing effects wouldn’t have been available because God’s instruction for receiving the promise was not provided. We are not in the position to override God’s methods for delivering his promises (for more on this click here).

There is another place where God attaches his promise to a material object.  That place is the Garden of Eden.  In Genesis 3:17, God attached His Word to the fruit of the tree “in the midst of the garden.” The promise attached to eating this fruit is death and thus when Adam ate, sin entered the world and condemned all mankind.  This one act is a means of destruction that ushered in the reign of sin, death and the devil.  But as our God is a loving God, from which his mercy and justice flow, a gospel promise is made several verses later in Genesis 3:15.  Therefore, all of the means of grace that follow are types of the final means of grace that comes through the promised seed of the woman, which is Jesus Christ.  Thus the salvation texts point to Christ saving us through his death and resurrection by the gifting of forgiveness of sins by faith through grace and the purification texts speak to Christ purifying us through gifting us the Holy Spirit. The prophecy in Ezekiel 36:24-27 brings this all together showing that through the means of Holy Baptism, God will gift His promises of forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit.  This will be fulfilled through the person, work and office of Jesus Christ.  When this is understood in light of the New Testament passages at the top of this post, there is no room for the position that baptism is a mere act of obedience (law) that is symbolic (not efficacious).  The history of the means of grace, as laid out above, point to the true work that is done in baptism by the hands of God.

Baptism is gospel, not law.

The above New Testament verses clearly display this good news of promises gifted in and through baptism. The word gospel literally means “good news.”  One cannot “do” good news,  one can only “receive” good news.  Baptism is where one receives these gospel promises which truly are the best news anyone could ever receive; the forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit.  Baptism also points to a objective event.  When the devil or our conscience question our faith, all that must be done is to point to our baptism to know the gifts were received. This is a blessed gift of assurance when darts from the enemy pierce the sub conscience with questions like “How do you know you are really saved?”, “You don’t really believe!” or “Are you sure of your faith?”  The objective act of baptism is a gift in and of itself to us to thwart Satan and our sinful nature against these attacks.  When these questions come (and they will for every believer) the answer is found in your baptism which is the very place the gifts were received.

To further support these assertions about baptism, I began to research what the church fathers believed and taught. They all believed the literal passages. This line of thinking is not new.  I am not the originator.  It has been the standard position of orthodoxy throughout church history. All of the historic church fathers from the time of the Apostles into the 16th century collectively believed and confessed this through their writings.  In addition, all of them baptized infants.

That leads us to Part 6 – Should Infants be Baptized?

Click here to go to “Christian Baptism Series – Part 4 – Why Was Jesus Baptized?”

Introducing the Church Fathers – John Chrysostom


John Chrysostom was a late 4th century/early 5 century (died AD 407) church father who held office as a deacon and presbyter in Antioch before his appointment to Archbishop of Constantinople in AD 397.  He was born to seemingly affluent parents in AD 347  as his father was a military officer. His father died shortly after John was born, thus John was primarily raised by his mother.  John began his education under the pagan Libanius focusing on language, literature and the use of rhetoric.  As he grew, so did his interest in Christianity.  John eventually left Libanius to focus solely on Christianity.  He was known as an eloquent speaker who defended the literal interpretation over the allegorical (Chrysostomos means golden mouthed in Greek). Thankfully a significant amount of his works have survived antiquity.  The selection chosen for today is from a work entitled “Homilies on Hebrews.”

“The name of Jesus [Joshua] was a type. For this reason then, and because of the very name, the creation reverenced him. What then! Was no other person called Jesus [Joshua]? But this man was on this account so called as a type; for he used to be called Hoshea. Therefore the name was changed: for it was a prediction and a prophecy. He brought in the people into the promised land, as Jesus into heaven; not the law; since neither did Moses (enter the promised land) but remained outside. The law has not the power to bring in, but grace.”

Homilies on Hebrews 27.6

When did you get saved?

This is a common question these days.

Interestingly enough, it usually comes with presuppositions.

Much can be said about ones theology by not only how the question is answered, but more importantly, how the question is phrased.  This question/answer paradigm, in general, is a personal pet peeve and the primary reason I’m penning this post.

The common American Evangelical answer spans a variety of possibilities, but most involve a personal experience had by an individual that enlightened them to the reality of their sinfulness and newly realized need for a savior.  These experiences materialize through a variety of ways including altar calls, youth retreats, and conferences.  These are only a few examples as the list goes on.  The problem with this answer is that it responds to the wrong question.  The response above actually answers the question “When did you come to faith in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins?”  The English language is eroding due to a toxic mixture of laziness and post-modern language deconstruction. This devaluation of language carries forth into our speech, thoughts and theology.  Therefore, the primary issue with the question “When did you get saved” is that it asks the wrong question for the desired answer. This misunderstanding of the proper “question/answer” paradigm as it pertains to salvation has allowed theological language to erode to the point of accepted inconsistencies.  The second issue comes by way of allowing the initial “When did you get saved” question to stand, instead of correcting the inquirer.  As a result truth is subjected to experience.  When the question of salvation hinges upon our experience with God instead of absolute truth as revealed by God, errors will abound.  While I agree that God can work through experience, I am concerned about where the assurance of salvation for those asking and answering the question “as posed” rests. In reality, no one is, was or ever will be  “saved” at any of these events in particular.  The word spoken at these events may allow one to realize their sin and subsequent need for salvation by grace through faith in Christ, but nonetheless, their salvation was bought, purchased and paid for at Calvary’s cross nearly 2,000 years ago and rightly proven on the 3rd day when Christ rose again for our justification (Romans 4:25).  This is when and where salvation happened for all people.

The problem with looking to my conversion story as the defining point for salvation rests in who did the work.  When pressed, many will readily confess that Christ actually did the work, however, that is not what the question or the answer implies. The implication is that the experience is the foundation for their personal salvation even if the individual fails to realize it.  The essence of what is being said is that “I got saved at this particular event and therefore I know I am saved because of that experience.”  Thus Christ’s atoning work on the cross plays second fiddle in assurance .  Assurance is first identified with experience and secondly identified with Christ.

This may seem nit-picky to some, but I find it a grave misunderstanding that can lead to an incorrect understanding of God for both the believer and unbeliever alike. All hope and assurance that we have rests in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  He is our salvation.  Rest in him instead of experiences. It may seem like I am opposed to “experience”, but in all truthfulness I’m not in the least.  Experiences are great.  I still get the “tinglies” when my wife smiles at me. I cherish hugs and playtime with my 3 year old son. I enjoy the way music makes me feel and  there’s nothing quite like the sun coming up on the horizon as winter gives way to spring.  These experiences are all fantastic; but they aren’t truth. Truth may be found in bits and pieces of these experiences, but these experiences in an of themselves are not truth.  Simply put, don’t let  experience trump truth, but instead let truth define experience.

Therefore, going forth…

…if someone asks, “Hey, when did you get saved?” 

Either correct the question or truthfully answer “Nearly 2000 years ago when Christ died for the sins of the world.”

…if someone asks “Where were you when you got saved?” 

Either correct the question or truthfully answer “Hidden in the wounds of Christ.”



Christian Baptism Series – Part 4 – Why was Jesus Baptized?


Why was Jesus Baptized?
This is indeed a good question.  Anyone whom claims orthodoxy would agree that Jesus lived a completely sinless life. That perfection was absolutely necessary for Christ to be the spotless Lamb of God. John the Baptist even says as much when he states “behold the lamb who takes away the sins of the world.” So why would the fully righteous, sinless God-man need baptism from John whose baptism was specifically the “baptism of repentance.” In Matthew 3:14 there is a clear view of this event. We also have a completely perplexed John the Baptist. He knows that his is a baptism of repentance. He also knows that Jesus has nothing to repent of. John also knows that he is a lowly sinner being asked to baptize God incarnate. John is perplexed. R.C.H. Lenski, in his Matthew commentary, says it much better than I…

“By associating himself with John in this matter of baptism Jesus is thinking of their respective offices. It was proper that they should carry out whatever respective positions required. It is thus that Jesus views his baptism. The view that it is an act of “righteousness “ only in so far as it marks the willing obedience of Jesus, God having ordered John to baptize Jesus and Jesus (though not needing the baptism) submitting to it, makes the baptism a formality and misunderstands what John’s baptism was. It was not law but gospel, not a demand to obey but a gift of grace to be received and accepted as such. By accepting John’s baptism Jesus is in no sense obeying the law, a useless law in his case; and in no sense accepting grace and pardon since he is indeed sinless. Jesus is choosing baptism by John as the right way by which to enter upon his great office and he is doing it with a fine sense of propriety including John as well as himself. He, the sinless one, the very Son of God, chooses to put himself alongside of all the sinful ones for whom John’s sacrament was ordained. He thus connects himself with all instances of John’s baptism; for it is his mediation that makes these truly efficacious for sinners. By thus joining himself to all these instances of John’s baptism he signifies that he is now ready to take upon himself the load of all sinners, i.e. assume his redemptive office. It was thus proper and right that Jesus should come and, as it were, offer himself voluntarily for this great office and not wait until he would be called or until it would be laid upon him. For this office, especially in so far as it involved the sacrifice upon the cross, had to be assumed voluntarily. Shortly after this baptism John calls Jesus the Lamb of God, referring directly to the sacrifice. Jesus himself calls his suffering a baptism, Luke 12:50 and elsewhere. These are rays which illuminate the character of this act when John baptized Jesus.

To summarize Lenski, Jesus embarks upon this baptism for the sole purpose of assuming His redemptive office. There is much involved in this, and taking it too far either direction has serious implications. On one hand, there are those that will say that this is merely an act of obedience. That simply turns this act into law; a law that would be a formality in this case. Jesus’ baptism is gospel, plain and simple. Jesus, in his baptism, is choosing to enter into his redemptive office by stepping into the waters, alongside those who so very badly need redemption. Ultimately it is Christ’s mediation between God and man, won upon the cross that gives the baptismal waters their efficacy. John knows this as he calls Jesus the Lamb of God a short time later. John knew Jesus was to be our atonement. On the other hand, it cannot be assumed that Jesus acted as our substitute in baptism. Christ secured our salvation by the work on the cross alone; not twice by his baptism and crucifixion. If this were true, then this would mean that each sin must be removed twice. That does not make sense, nor does the Bible teach it. Going too far in either direction here will have serious consequences to ones understanding of this event.

Click here for Part 5 of the series titled “What does baptism do?”

Click here for “Christian Baptism Series – Part 3 – John & his baptism of repentance”

Updates & Blog Direction

First of all, thank you for continued interest in this blog!

Thank you for the support through views, likes, comments and follows. Going forward, I thought it best to come up with a plan to aid continuity of content so that readers can understand the direction.

The following list will hopefully shed some light on what to expect…

Christian Baptism Series
The first 3 posts are up in this series and there will be 4 more which will make this a 7 week series. I plan to continue posts from this series on Mondays.

Introducing the Church Fathers
The first 2 posts in this series are live (Gregory of Elvira & Melito of Sardis). I plan to continue this series for the life of this blog. There are many church fathers that all Christians should be acquainted with. I find it troubling that culturally, more is known about national history (be it ever so slight) than our Church history. I plan new posts in this series on Thursdays. The focus of this series is not to provide an exhaustive biography, but to give a short introduction to the person and then let them speak for themselves through their surviving writings. It is also very possible that some church fathers will be revisited as many have insights on a variety of Theological topics rarely seen in the modern era.

I will continue to season the blog with topical content on occasion. I hope to do this more often than not. Some examples of my topical posts are “Baptism & the Fountain of Youth”, “Can I Lose My Salvation”, and “Sacraments for those who don’t believe in Sacraments.”

Mining the Parables
This is a new series that I am currently working on. This series will take the place of the Christian Baptism series once it completes. The plan is to exegete the parables of Christ. I find much misinformation regarding the parables and hopefully this series will be a helpful resource for those seeking to understand them in an exegetical, historical and contextual fashion. This series will begin on Monday June 16th.

Once again, I’m very grateful for your interest in this blog. Please don’t be a stranger. If there are any topics that are of interest to you, I’m certainly open to suggestions. Feel free to contact me on twitter @JonRodebaugh or by email at

Thank you all and have a blessed weekend!

Introducing the Church Fathers – Melito of Sardis


Melito of Sardis was the mid to late second century bishop of Sardis (currently located in modern day Turkey). He was a contemporary of Tertulian and served under the Roman rule of Marcus Aurelius. Unfortunately, apart from his homily on the Passover, only fragments of his writings survived antiquity. Thankfully, these works were preserved through the writings of Jerome and Eusebius. In addition to preserving these works, Jerome also credits Melito with establishing the Old Testament canon. As we are in the midst of Easter season, I found it fitting to post a couple excerpts from Melito’s Passover homily. While the entire homily is excellent (found here) these excerpts loudly and unabashedly proclaim the dual nature of Christ Jesus, His death and resurrection. I hope you enjoy them as much as I.

“Pay attention, all families of the nations, and observe! An extraordinary murder has taken place in the center of Jerusalem, in the city devoted to God’s law, in the city of the Hebrews, in the city of the prophets, in the city thought of as just. And who has been murdered? And who is the murderer? I am ashamed to give the answer, but give it I must. For if this murder had taken place at night, or if he had been slain in a desert place, it would be well to keep silent; but it was in the middle of the main street, even in the center of the city, while all were looking on, that the unjust murder of this just person took place. And thus he was lifted up upon the tree, and an inscription was affixed identifying the one who had been murdered. Who was he? It is painful to tell, but it is more dreadful not to tell. Therefore, hear and tremble because of him for whom the earth trembled. The one who hung the earth in space, is himself hanged; the one who fixed the heavens in place, is himself impaled; the one who firmly fixed all things, is himself firmly fixed to the tree. The Lord is insulted, God has been murdered, the King of Israel has been destroyed by the right hand of Israel. O frightful murder! O unheard of injustice! The Lord is disfigured and he is not deemed worthy of a cloak for his naked body, so that he might not be seen exposed. For this reason the stars turned and fled, and the day grew quite dark, in order to hide the naked person hanging on the tree, darkening not the body of the Lord, but the eyes of men. Yes, even though the people did not tremble, the earth trembled instead; although the people were not afraid, the heavens grew frightened; although the people did not tear their garments, the angels tore theirs; although the people did not lament, the Lord thundered from heaven, and the most high uttered his voice.”

“But he arose from the dead and mounted up to the heights of heaven. When the Lord had clothed himself with humanity, and had suffered for the sake of the sufferer, and had been bound for the sake of the imprisoned, and had been judged for the sake of the condemned, and buried for the sake of the one who was buried,he rose up from the dead, and cried aloud with this voice: Who is he who contends with me? Let him stand in opposition to me. I set the condemned man free; I gave the dead man life; I raised up the one who had been entombed. Who is my opponent? I, he says, am the Christ. I am the one who destroyed death, and triumphed over the enemy, and trampled Hades under foot, and bound the strong one, and carried off man to the heights of heaven, I, he says, am the Christ. Therefore, come, all families of men, you who have been befouled with sins, and receive forgiveness for your sins. I am your forgiveness, I am the passover of your salvation, I am the lamb which was sacrificed for you, I am your ransom, I am your light, I am your saviour, I am your resurrection, I am your king, I am leading you up to the heights of heaven, I will show you the eternal Father, I will raise you up by my right hand. This is the one who made the heavens and the earth, and who in the beginning created man, who was proclaimed through the law and prophets, who became human via the virgin, who was hanged upon a tree, who was buried in the earth, who was resurrected from the dead, and who ascended to the heights of heaven, who sits at the right hand of the Father, who has authority to judge and to save everything, through whom the Father created everything from the beginning of the world to the end of the age. This is the alpha and the omega. This is the beginning and the end–an indescribable beginning and an incomprehensible end. This is the Christ. This is the king. This is Jesus. This is the general. This is the Lord. This is the one who rose up from the dead. This is the one who sits at the right hand of the Father. He bears the Father and is borne by the Father, to whom be the glory and the power forever. Amen.”



Sacraments For Those Who Don’t Believe In Sacraments

One of the hardest concepts for me to grasp before entering confessional Lutheran fellowship was sacramental theology. Coming from a non sacramental background, the act of viewing the Lord’s Supper and baptism as more than symbols were not only foreign, but were too close to Rome for my liking. My most fundamental friends and family would surely think I had gone off the deep end of Christianity and fallen into the cold embrace of works righteousness. Nevertheless, after several years of careful study, I concluded that sacramental theology as understood in the confessional Lutheran tradition was in-fact scriptural. My adherence to Lutheran sacramental theology has indeed been a sticking point concerning many conversations with my non-Lutheran friends and family. While I can certainly understand this, I find it ironic that those who deny the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper by turning them into symbolic ordinances, have actually inadvertently invented sacraments of their own design.

Let me explain.

Sacraments are actions instituted by Jesus and combine a promise in God’s Word with a physical element. Therefore sacraments are simply means to receive the promises of God as directed by scripture. This gives the church a standard for how  Christians are to interact with God and receive His promises. Alternatively, when the sacraments are removed from the Christian life, interaction with Jesus is greatly reduced as a result. Jesus is only where He has promised to be. We aren’t in the position to make up rules concerning when and where Jesus shows up. For the church, Jesus has promised to show up in His word, in the waters of Holy Baptism and in the bread and cup of the Lord’s Supper. These aren’t mere memorials or symbols, but real receptive interaction with Jesus. Thus even when the sacraments are stripped of their purpose and efficacy, the desire to interact with Jesus and receive His promises remain. For the Christian, this desire will not subside. In response to this need, “new” sacraments are created to fill the void and insinuate tangible interaction. These “new” sacraments may not be called sacraments, but I can assure they are made to function in like manner. Since baptism and the Lord’s Supper are viewed as mere ordinances and thus not efficacious, something has to fill the void that remains. This void is filled through the worship music experience, conversational prayer, and the altar call.

These are the new sacraments.

These are where the modern church wants to find God.

This is not good news because these false “sacraments” will lead to the wrong destination.  Jesus has revealed where He can be found.  Any directions apart from His instruction will lead to an undesired destination.  When true sacraments are scrapped the resulting “false” sacraments will always lead one back to themselves. This is a destination that all should be weary of treading.

When one is lost in the worship experience the desire is always to recreate the last experience and wonder why when it doesn’t happen?

When one attempts to turn prayer into a conversation and expects to receive directives and/or assurance whether quietly or audibly, how does one truly discern between the conscience and God or worse yet, what happens when there is nothing?

When one attempts to “do business with God” during the latest altar call, what happens when they really, really, really commit to do better this time only to fail yet again, or worse yet what happens when they realize they’ve turned repentance into a work?

The problem with these false sacraments is that not only do they fail to give the Christian what they need, which is Jesus, but ultimately leave the door open for numerous false teachings by direct revelation which infiltrate the church through the means of desired experience instead of revealed absolute truth as found in scripture. Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller once said, “Take away the temple and Judaism becomes Pharisee-ism. Take away the sacraments and Christianity becomes Evangelicalism.”  This may seem harsh, but when one understands the gravity of this statement, it is sadly not a stretch.


Christian Baptism Series – Part 3 – John & His Baptism of Repentance


Who is John the Baptist and what was the purpose of his baptism?
When introduced to John the Baptist in the beginning of the gospels, the role he plays is essential to defining both what baptism is and who Jesus is. In the beginning of the Matthew (Chapter 3) and John’s (Chapter 2) gospel accounts it is revealed that the Pharisees send messengers to inquire about John the Baptist to discern who he claims to be and why he is baptizing. They are curious as to whether he is the Christ, Elijah or the (faithful) Prophet (John 1:19-22). He denies each of these titles and answers by simply quoting Isaiah 40:3 saying that he is a “voice crying out in the wilderness…” and points them to the one that will come after him whose “sandals he is unworthy to untie.” The Jews were used to their many forms of purification as we studied earlier, so while the act of purification was not foreign to them, the language used along with the massive number of recipients was. This was the basis for the Pharisees questioning. So what’s the difference between the baptism of John the Baptist and the baptism commissioned by Jesus in Matthew 28:19? Several times in scripture, John’s baptism is called a “baptism of repentance” (Luke 3:3, Mark 1:4, Acts 19:4) and this title is specific to John.

What does this mean?

Is it different than Jesus’ baptismal commission in Matthew 28:19?

To understand this, the person of John the Baptist, his purpose and work, must be understood. Scripture lays this out in detail.  Isaiah 40:3 is where this study begins.

“A voice cries: Prepare ye the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

Traditionally, before the New Testament period, Isaiah 40:3 was viewed as fulfilled when the remnant of Judah returned from Babylonian captivity. The desert highway was the route of grace for those who remained faithful.  Barry G. Webb, in his commentary on Isaiah, has a more astute observation when he says…

“Although there was a partial return from exile in the years following 539 B.C., spiritually the exile continued until the Messiah came. Only he could solve the deep, underlying problem.”

This is actually at the heart of the often misquoted Jeremiah chapter 29.  Jeremiah has prophesied that Babylon will conquer Jerusalem but God will save for himself a remnant that will be exiled to Babylon. Chapter 29 is a letter of comfort to these exiles outlining the promises, hope and blessings they have and will be given for staying faithful.  The promises include both spiritual and temporal blessings. The temporal blessings were fulfilled when the remnant returned from exile, but the spiritual blessings of hope and a future were still yet to be fulfilled.  These blessings would be met in the person and work of the coming Messiah.

Malachi 3:1 says…

“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.

This is the same verse that is quoted in Matthew 11:10, Mark 1:2 and Luke 7:27. Notice there is a distinction between the “messenger” who prepares the way (John) and the “messenger of the covenant” (Jesus). Therefore, looking through these lenses, John’s ministry is fully preparatory for the entrance of Christ. This means that in all things John is preparing, which includes baptism. John’s baptism of repentance, in light of Isaiah 40:3, is a call for Israel to return from their spiritual exile. Thus John’s baptism of repentance is for Israel alone and fully efficacious for the remission of their sins. Therefore, the Pharisees were looking for Elijah to return in the flesh as a fulfillment of the prophecy in Malachi 4:5 and thus sent messengers to ask if this was who John claimed to be.  Malachi 4:5 says…

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the Prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord.”

John denies this claim which was true.  He was not Elijah in the flesh but John who was naturally born of Zechariah and Elizabeth.  That being said, how does this work in light of Matthew 17:10-13 where Jesus refers to John the Baptist as Elijah?  Jesus was simply stating that John was a type of Elijah as he was the last prophet before Jesus Christ.  All previous prophets pointed forward to Christ and the same is true for John, only in addition to pointing to his coming, he was also Jesus’ contemporary and thus prepares the way for him. The idea of preparing the way for Jesus’ ministry begins with Johns baptism of repentance.  John’s preparatory baptism merges into Jesus’ ministry in John 3:26 and 4:1-2 when Jesus’ disciples begin to baptize alongside John. John’s view of this accompaniment is that he must decrease and Jesus must increase. R.C.H. Lenski puts it this way in his commentary on Matthew…

“In essence and efficacy both were the same. The Baptist’s was on the level of the revelation given at that time; that of Jesus on the level of his completed work. That of the Baptist made followers of the Christ about to come; That of Jesus followers of the Christ who had come. Both bestowed forgiveness; the one the forgiveness about to be wrought; the other the forgiveness that had been wrought. Thus the baptism of John was preparatory for Israel alone, Christ’s permanent for all nations. And only in this way that one made ready for and then gave way to the other.”

Therefore the only real difference between John’s preparatory baptism and Jesus’ is whom it is directed toward. John’s is for Israel and Jesus’ is for everyone. I would also like to address some confusion concerning John’s baptism as seen in Acts 19. When Paul arrives in Ephesus, he discovers some disciples who knew nothing of the Holy Spirit. Paul subsequently asks in whom they were baptized? They reply into John’s baptism. This appears to contradictory. The apostles and Apollos were also baptized into John’s baptism and it was fully efficacious not warranting a “re-baptism.” Paul makes sure to point out why their baptism wasn’t real; lack of knowledge of the work of Jesus or the Holy Spirit. These disciples were not familiar with Jesus nor had they heard of, let alone received the Holy Spirit in their baptism. This means that no baptism really took place. Paul lays hands on them and baptizes them in the triune name of God (in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit); which is how the Lord Jesus commanded in Matthew 28:19. The New Bible Commentary has a solid explanation…

“These people had received a baptism of repentance, which was in itself a good thing, but unlike Apollos (Acts 18:25), they did not seem to know anything about Jesus. We are not told that Apollos needed to be rebaptized (Priscilla and Aquila certainly would have been able to baptize them, if Ananias could baptize Paul, Acts 9:17-19). The probable difference was that Apollos knew about and trusted in the Messiah (having accurate, if incomplete knowledge about him, Acts 18:25-26) and saw his baptism in connection with that faith, whereas for these disciples, the baptism was merely a pledge of good behavior. They still needed to be baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.”

What is Repentance?

Now that the similarities and differences between John’s and Jesus’ disciples baptism have been established, it is important to look at and understand repentance as defined by scripture. These days, it seems common thought amongst Christians that repentance is something that the individual does in and of themselves. In this modern definition, I do the initial work and God takes care of the rest (by forgiving my sin). This is 180 degrees backwards from what scripture presents. Repentance is a gift that we cannot come to apart from God’s work. In Luke 15:3-7, Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep.

So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

This is where we go to truly understand repentance. The shepherd in the parable is Jesus and we are the sheep. A sheep is lost, representing us, and the shepherd does all the work to find the sheep, then puts the sheep on his shoulders, rejoices and carries him back home. Notice that Jesus doesn’t make the sheep walk back on his own. This is purposeful. This shows that we do absolutely none of the work as we are only receptive of the life saving gift. In verse 7, Jesus concludes by saying that this parable is a picture of repentance. Repentance is Jesus finding us and carrying us home, therefore, it is not something we do. The only role we play in the story is that of getting ourselves lost, and when found, agreeing with Christ that we are indeed lost thus we cooperate by returning with him.  Repentance is gifted agreeance with Christ.  Repentance acknowledges that our sin is indeed sin and is in opposition to the will of God and thus receives forgiveness of sins as a gift given from Christ’s atoning work on the cross.

Summary thus far

In effect, John’s baptism is one of repentance, specifically for Israel and Christ’s baptism is one of repentance for all nations. John’s baptism calls the Jews from their spiritual exile while Jesus’ baptism expands the call to all nations. Both baptisms are fully efficacious and do precisely what scripture says they do; forgive sin.  Neither baptism requires any work of our own because they both are 100% Christ’s work. In Mark 2, when the paralytic is lowered through the roof, Jesus first forgives the mans sin.  The Pharisees respond in verse 7 by saying…

“Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

The Pharisees were right in saying that only God can forgive sin.  By doing this Jesus claims His divinity and then proves it by healing the man’s temporal ailment allowing him to walk.  Baptism, as described in scripture is no different.  There are many passages that connect baptism to the forgiveness of sins.  These verses will be investigated in the upcoming installments of this study on baptism.  Before moving on, let’s look back to what was learned in week 1 of this study to begin to connect the Old Testament with the New Testament.  In week 1 of this study, several examples of “means and promise” were studied.  For the priest, washing feet and hands in the bronze basin before entering the tent of meeting was efficacious as it saved him from certain death.  For the person in contact with the deceased, washing on the 3rd and 7th day was efficacious in allowing him to return to the community.  This same “means and promise” purifies the leper as well as the scapegoat handler.  In like manner, the New/Old Testament allegories (The flood narrative and the crossing of the Red Sea) point to baptism as accomplishing salvation.  The Ezekiel prophecy in Chapter 36:24-27  says…

“I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanliness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

This prophecy also speaks of “means and promise.”  The means is sprinkling with water and the promise is cleanliness, a new heart of flesh and gifting of the Holy Spirit.  This prophecy points forward to both John’s baptism of repentance and Jesus’ baptism for the forgiveness of sins (and gifting of the Holy Spirit) as Jesus’ baptism engulfs John’s and expands it to all.  There is no racial restriction. There is no cultural restriction. There is no gender restriction. There is no positional restriction.

There is no age restriction.

This statement of inclusion has been a topic of much debate in “modern” times.  I am well aware of there being no verse that clearly states “baptism is for infants.” However, using this same poor hermeneutical principle, a case could be made that communion isn’t for women as there is no place in the Bible that records a woman taking communion, or where it says that women can take communion. We know this to be hogwash, but it goes a long way in making the point as I am equally aware of zero verses that restrict baptism from infants. Simply, the arguments used to validate women taking the Lord’s Supper are the same arguments historically used for affirming infant baptism. We cannot say this argument can be used for women and communion but not for baptism and infants. Matthew 28:19 says that we are to baptize all nations; children and infants are included in all nations. They are part of the census. They are counted. Galatians 3:28-29 states…

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

These verses are solely salvivic. They clearly state there is no division or distinction in Christ’s salvation plan. I understand that it does not specifically say “elderly or infant”, nor does it have to. Any of the distinctions made in the verse could be infant or elderly. The purpose of the list is the complete inclusiveness of Christ. If Paul had added a disclaimer excluding “infants” it would not be inclusive, but exclusive. Remember in Ephesians 1:4, Paul says that…

“even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.”

This statement is as inclusive as Galatians 3:28-29. If God chooses us, what does age have to do with anything? It is as irrelevant as our color, gender or social status. In addition, infants are in need of what baptism offers.  Job 15:14, Psalm 51:5, John 3:6, Ephesians 2:3 and Romans 5:12 show that all are born under the curse of sin.  No one is born good or innocent.  In addition to believing what scripture says about this, there is also temporal proof.  The proof is that infants die.  Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin is death.  Therefore, with ample proof that all are born under the verdict of guilty, including infants, the reality of the necessity for baptism of all ages is presented.  This will be revisited and expanded upon in Parts 5 and 6 of this study. In the meantime, stay tuned for next weeks installment “Part 4 – Why was Jesus baptized?”

Click here for “Christian Baptism Series – Part 4 – Why was Jesus Baptized”

Click here for “Christian Baptism Series – Part 2 – Jewish Rites of Purification & Pharisaical Law”

Introducing the Church Fathers – Gregory of Elvira

ImageGregory of Elvira was the Bishop of Elvira, Spain during the mid to late 4th century (died 392).  Unfortunately many of his writings were lost to antiquity and there remains confusion concerning correct authorship for many of those that survived.   Thankfully his writing titled “The Prostitute viewed from Salvation” persevered.  If you are not familiar with this work, I encourage you to take a few minutes and make your acquaintance. 

The Prostitute viewed from salvation by Gregory of Elvira

“And Joshua the son of Nun, “It says, “sent two spies from Shittim, saying to them ‘Go up and survey the land and Jericho.’ When they arrived in Jericho, the two young men entered the house of a prostitute by the name Rahab and stayed as guests.” Pay attention to the structure of this mystery, most beloved brothers, and ask yourselves why men as great as these, for whom the Lord had performed such great marvels and miracles, entered the house of a woman of ill repute, as if they were unable to lodge elsewhere. They did this not by chance, I believe, but intentionally by prophetic design. For I find this prostitute in many places, not only as a hostess of saints but also as their bride. The most holy prophet Hosea, for instance, was commanded by the Lord to accept a harlot as his wife: “For the Lord said to me, ‘Take for your wife a prostitute and generate children of prostitution.’” Even our Lord and Savior himself, when he had sat down by the well in Samaria, conversed with an immoral woman to whom no one had previously spoken there. After he said to her, “You have had five husbands and the one you have now is not your husband,” she believed that he was the Messiah, that is, she confessed him to be the Christ. Then there was the harlot who washed the Savior’s feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair and anointed them while kissing them. Let us see, therefore, what our hostess represents. This Rahab, although she is called a prostitute, nevertheless is a sign of the virgin church, considered as a foreshadow of the coming realities at the end of the age, where she alone is preserved to life among all who are perishing. For even when it was said to the prophet Hosea, “Take for your wife a prostitute,” surely then the image of the church as coming from Gentiles was being prefigured, given that the people were to be gathered from the harlotry of the nations and from the prostitution of idols, for, it says, “they prostituted themselves to strange gods.” Indeed, she is called “the church” because the Greek word ecclesia means “gathering of the people.” And just as the apostle says, “An unfaithful wife is sanctified through her faithful husband,” so also is the church, coming from the infidelity of the Gentiles and prostitution with idols, sanctified through the body of Christ, of which we are members, as we learn from the same apostolic author. Because the church, as I have often said, gathered from the multitude of Gentiles, was then called a prostitute, therefore the church is found in the figure of Rahab, the hostess of saints.”