Dunkin’ Christians

The 100th anniversary of the Titanic has brought about a resurgence of interest in the story. They even re-released in 3-D the epic movie from 1997, unleashing that tortuous song from Celine Dion on a whole new generation of movie-goers. Has anyone actually seen the Titanic? I don’t mean the movie – I mean the ship. Underwater vehicles and cameras have come a long way in exploration and we now have excellent imagery of the wreckage. Have a look:

The ancient Greeks had a word to describe sunken ships – BAPTIDZO: submerged. The word “baptize” literally means to submerge or to immerse under water. For that reason, I like to call John the Baptist “John the Dunker” or “Dunkin’ John.”

dunkin-christiansIf baptize literally means to submerge, how did different Christian traditions begin doing other forms of baptism? Some traditions sprinkle water. Some traditions pour water over a person. The biblical example is that baptism is full immersion and, with the word literally meaning to immerse, that is the standard practice of many evangelicals. But the way you are baptized is not the critical issue.


Baptism itself will not save you or put you in right standing with God.

There is a great story in Acts 16. The Apostle Paul and his co-minister Silas were in prison because they had caused a raucous as they went around preaching about Jesus. So there they are in prison, praying and singing worship songs at midnight, and all of the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there is a huge earthquake and the doors shake loose and the prisoners’ chains fell off! The guard comes running, sees the open doors, and pulls out his sword to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. Better to die by his own hand with honor than to have his superiors put him to death for letting the prisoners escape. But Paul calls out to him, “Don’t hurt yourself – we’re all still here.” And the guard is blown away and asks these men of God, “What must I do to be saved?” And Paul’s tells him, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” Then they tell him about Jesus and the guard takes them home, washes their wounds, and they baptize the guard and his family.

What do you have to do to be saved? Put your faith in Jesus. Baptism follows faith. For this reason many churches practice what we call “believer’s baptism.” Preaching always comes first: turn from your sin and put your faith in Jesus. It is also for this reason that many do not baptize infants and small children. While infant baptism is not prohibited in the Bible, the clear example is that baptism is something one does after making a decision to follow Jesus. But why baptism? Where does it come from?

The beautiful thing about the Bible is that it is always pointing towards Christ. Even the Old Testament is constantly pointing towards Christ. There are two events in the Old Testament that are pre-cursors to Christian baptism; they foreshadow what is to come. Those events are the flood and the exodus.

bible-1138240_1920In the story of the flood, God sees that humanity has become corrupt and filled with violence. God instructs Noah, a righteous man, to build an ark for God will offer salvation and not destroy creation completely. So through the ark, Noah and his family enter the cleansing waters and come out the other side to a new world – a fresh start to be the people God designed them to be. Peter, one of Jesus’ closest companions, writes in his first letter:

“Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you. Not the removal of filth of the flesh, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (3:21).

Similarly, in the story of the Exodus the time when God took His people out of slavery in Egypt into freedom, the people are running out of Egypt as fast as they can. Then they realize that Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, is coming after them to recapture them and take them prisoners and slaves back to Egypt. And all of a sudden they are trapped, stuck with the Red Sea on one side and Pharaoh’s army coming on the other side. But God does a miracle, and the waters separate so that God’s people can go through the water and come out the other side. Then the waters close back up, but God’s people have come out the other side to a new world – a fresh start to be the people God designed them to be. The New Testament carries on the same understanding of coming through the other side to a new world.

The water symbolizes God’s activity inside. Baptism becomes an outward sign of what God is doing on the inside! But John’s baptism is still before Jesus comes on the scene. Then comes Jesus and, shockingly, He asks to be baptized, too! It wasn’t that Jesus needed to repent of sin – He is the only perfect human in history. But by being baptized He publicly proclaimed, “I am aligning myself with God – I am on His side. I stand for God and His righteousness.” Christian baptism from then on become a public stand for Jesus – aligning ourselves with Him and declaring, “I belong to Him.

The Bible tells us a story in Acts 8:34-39 about a preacher named Philip. Philip comes across a man reading the Bible but the man doesn’t really get it. So Philip says, “Would you like me to explain it to you?” And he tells the man about Jesus. The man sees a body of water nearby and says, “Can I get baptized right now?” And Philip says, “If you believe with all your heart you may.” So the man gets baptized right then and there.

This is what baptism is all about; it is an outward sign of what God is doing inside of us. Through baptism we participate in the death and resurrection of Christ – we die, are buried, and are resurrected. It is about God transforming us from the dirty prisoners we used to be into new people with fresh starts to be the people that He has designed us to be. It is where we align ourselves with God and declare to the world, “I do not belong to you – I belong to Jesus!” – Baptism is a visible declaration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

baptism-106057_1920So where does that leave us today? We’re left with three options. 1) If you do not believe, why not? What is it that’s holding you back from saying, “Yes, I believe that Jesus is the Son of God and I am willing to surrender myself to Him”? If you have never made that decision, choose Jesus today. Let Him have control of your life. Become His disciple. 2) If you do believe but have not been baptized – get baptized! It’s time to make the public statement – I believe in Jesus and I commit myself to live for Him the rest of my life. I belong to no one else – just Him! Finally, 3) If you have been baptized, let the old you die! Live a new life for God! So often we say we believe, we get baptized, but then we continue to do the same old things we’ve always done.

Baptism is about letting the old person die and coming out of the water as a brand new person – free to live a fresh start the way God designed us to be. Let your old self be washed away – start living in the freedom and newness of Jesus Christ.
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How about you? Have you been baptized? Where were you baptized?

Searching For Sunday: A Review of Rachel Held Evans’s Book

Rachel Held Evans I’ll admit it; I’ve got a love/hate relationship with Rachel Held Evans. Not that she knows it – we’ve never met. But I read her blog and her stuff on social media.

Some of the questions she has for and about how the church behaves are right on. I’ve wrestled with some of the same issues myself. At the same time, she gets a lot of it wrong, goes too far on some issues, and completely misses it on other issues. She has a tendency to get tunnel vision – she’s got her couple core issues that get played on repeat over, and over, and over, and…well, you get it.

Searching for Sunday
So when I heard she had a new book out about “loving, leaving, and finding the church,” I thought I’d give it a read. Before even reading it I’d seen liberals praising it and conservative lambasting it. So I read it for myself.

Ms. Evans divides her book into a prologue and 7 sections, following the sacraments of the Church: Baptism, Confession, Holy Orders, Communion, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, and Marriage. Since she wrote in this order, my review will take one section at a time in the same order. Here’s my take on it.

Prologue:

Ms. Evans begins laying the groundwork for the rest of the book, setting the stage for her own journey away from the evangelical church. As I expected, she starts right in by bringing up her pet peeves with evangelical faith: biblical interpretation, religious pluralism, sexuality (feminism and LGBTQ issues), racial reconciliation, and social justice. These issues come as no surprise, for they are the resounding gong of all of her work.

The problem for me comes a few pages into the prologue where she writes:

The truth is, I don’t even bother getting out of bed many Sunday mornings, especially on days when I’m not sure I believe in God or when there’s an interesting guest on Meet the Press.

She finishes the prologue with similar words:

It’s about why, even on days when I suspect all this talk of Jesus and resurrection and life everlasting is a bunch of bunk designed to coddle us through an essentially meaningless existence, I should still like to be buried with my feet facing the rising sun. Just in case.

This is the problem. The entire rest of the book isn’t coming from a place of faith. It’s coming from a place of un-faith (yes, I know that’s not a real word). I’m not against asking God questions – even difficult questions. I firmly believe that God is big enough to handle any questions we may have. But we’re not talking about mere questions here. We’re talking about lack of faith.

People like Ms. Evans like to use the example from the Gospels when a Jesus has a conversation with a man (see Mark 9):

Jesus: All things are possible to him who believes.
Man: Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!”

But this case is different. The man comes from a place of belief and is asking help to get the rest of the way. Ms. Evans admittedly approaches much of her life beginning with unbelief.

If you spend much time doubting the resurrection actually happened can you really consider yourself a Christian? Ms. Evans seems to like the IDEA of church when it works to serve people and the issues she cares about, but she doesn’t seem to like the faith that is the FOUNDATION of that church. While some of her criticisms may have validity, it is difficult for me to receive criticisms from someone who doubts in the resurrection or the existence of God.

I don’t judge her for her lack of faith. I don’t judge anyone who is a non-believer. But I think Ms. Evans is fooling herself to say she doubts the existence of God and the resurrection yet still makes a claim to be Christian. She seems to fit better in the category (I know she hates labels, but they help us make sense of the world) of agnostic.

My other problem with the prologue is that Ms. Evans claims:

My aim in employing these seven sacraments is not theological or ecclesiological, but rather literary.

Yet the book IS theological and ecclesiological. My problem is not that she claims not to but then does write on theology and ecclesiology (theology as applied to the nature and structure of the Christian Church) but that I think she gets some of the theology wrong. So here we go…

Baptism: Baptism

From the get-go I don’t think Ms. Evans has the right view of baptism. As she tells her own story she lists various baptism traditions that could have been had she not been born to an evangelical family. But among the list of baptismal traditions she mentions the Mormon tradition. It’s mixed right in there with evangelicals, Orthodox, Catholic, and Presbyterian.

But Mormonism is NOT a branch of Christianity. The fact that she includes Mormonism is another indicator that she falls under the agnostic column more than the Christian.

Mormonism notwithstanding, Ms. Evans and I disagree with the nature and significance of baptism. She writes:

In the ritual of baptism, our ancestors acted out the bizarre truth of the Christian identity: We are people who stand totally exposed before evil and death and declare then powerless against love.

While I agree that baptism is about identity, her language about love doesn’t sit right with me. Baptism ISN’T about declaring evil and death powerless against love. Baptism is about sin, repentance, death, and resurrection. John the Baptist was baptizing people before Jesus even came on the scene, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (see Mark 1:4). In our baptism we are putting to death our old identity and emerging from the water with a new identity. Love beating evil and death is too generic, too “new age-y.”

Baptism says, “I have a new life as a follower of the risen Christ.”

Of course, nothing from Ms. Evans would be complete without vocal support of the LGBTQ community, so she includes a chapter dedicated to the baptism story of a gay young man. She concludes the section with the statement:

…baptism is done at the beginning of your faith journey, not the middle or the end. You don’t have to have everything together to be baptized.

She is absolutely right on this point. You DON’T have to have it together to be baptized. The problem with many who fall in the liberal camp is that they have no expectation of spiritual growth and development post-baptism. God accepts us the way we are. That doesn’t mean God is content we STAY the way we are.

Finally, Ms. Evans uses this section to blast evangelicals on a couple points. She presents her criticisms as though they are universally representative of evangelical churches, but they are not. I was raised in the Assemblies of God my entire life (though I am now non-denominational). Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) was never banned in my church or home. The King James Version was not the only allowed Bible. I was allowed to watch movies and television. I never once heard women’s breasts referred to as “stumbling blocks” (an expression Ms. Evans uses a couple of times). My church tradition ordains women (my own mother is ordained) and recognizes their place in ministry.

Since my evangelical story is vastly different from hers, I suggest Ms. Evans refine her definitions and terminology and stop leveling generic accusations that don’t hold water across the evangelical spectrum.

Confession: Confession

In the section on confession, Ms. Evans seems to be confessing her own story – why she really started turning away from the Christian Church. Part of her split is due to the role of women in the church. Her background is in a church where she felt relegated to baby showers and ladies’ teas when she wanted to be leading a Bible study or theological discussion. Not to beat a dead horse, but she levels accusations at evangelicalism that aren’t true across the board. My wife has led Bible studies and has NEVER constructed a diaper cake. But these peripheral issues seem to be simply excuses for the real issue – a loss of faith. She writes:

I couldn’t pretend to believe things I didn’t believe anymore.

So she talks about singing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” with an unraveled faith (even though the “shadow of turning” line in the song isn’t about OUR faith but about GOD’S faithfulness through it all). Still, she gets it right when she talks about the practice of confession.

The practice of confession gives us the chance to admit to one another that we’re not okay, and then to seek healing and reconciliation together, in community.

The contemporary American evangelical church does NOT do a good job with confession. We’re too busy pretending we’ve got it all together. Heaven forbid we admit to each other that we’re struggling with something. Heave forbid our pastors show flaws or weaknesses! Ms. Evans is right when she notes that our churches feel more like country clubs than Alcoholics Anonymous. Church ought to be the place where we are free to be broken with one another.

But then she devolves from a good conversation about confession into a litany of historical grievances against Christians, beginning with the Crusades and including Western empire building (although that was political behavior behind a veneer of religion, not religious behavior). I don’t agree with the liberal re-interpretation of the history, and I won’t spend time arguing about that here. It just seems out of place in this book and wasn’t tied into the larger story being developed.

She ends the section with the liberal call to stop judging people and to love them instead. Not surprising. I happen to think the Bible calls us to love people AND to judge them. We can point out sin without being unloving. And just because we wrestle with our own sin doesn’t mean we must shut up about talking about other sins.

Holy Orders: Holy Orders

Ms. Evans uses the sacrament of holy orders to talk about her experience being part of a church plant. Most of the section is personal narrative of her experience with planting a church. It’s tough to be part of a church plant, which she and her husband experienced first-hand. Ministry is difficult in ANY setting.

She is right that all Christians share the same calling. We are kingdom of priests and should be serving and ministering to one another. What amazes me is that she would even attempt to be part of a ministry team and a faith leader when she admittedly lacks faith.

Communion: Communion

Ms. Evans is big on doing as opposed to believing. The mainstay of evangelical churches is belief. She believes we miss the mark because we prefer to believe rather than do. When it comes to communion writes:

‘Do this,’ he said–not believe this but do this–in remembrance of me.

But what she misses is that the doing was a result OF the believing. Jesus said DO this to remember me. Without the believing communion is simply shared meal time. Even in the early church gatherings, the communal meal wasn’t the totality of the gathering. They gathered for the apostles’ teaching (doctrine and belief) and to prayer (elements of faith and belief). It was BECAUSE of their belief that they continued to meet together. You cannot separate believing and doing. Indeed, believing must precede the doing, or else we’re just Boy Scouts looking to do good deeds for others.

Ms. Evans seems to relegate communion to the act of feeding one another and table fellowship. She writes:

Certainly nonbelievers can care for one another and make one another food. But it is Christians who recognize this act as sacrament, as holy.

NO! Communion isn’t about caring for one another and making food for each other. It’s about the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross, giving up his body and blood to pay a price we couldn’t afford to pay. She de-theologizes communion when she makes it about food rather than the work of Christ on the cross. Because she makes it about table fellowship rather than Christ’s substitutionary work, she can talk about welcoming all to the table.

“Welcome! There’s bread and wine. Come eat with us and talk.” This isn’t a kingdom for the worthy; it’s a kingdom for the hungry.

While we will never be worthy (which is why we couldn’t pay the price for our sins ourselves), communion is about Jesus paying the price for us. When we come to faith we begin a shift, though, and cannot remain the same. The Church that should be welcoming to all still needs to be the Church that quotes God, “Be holy as I am holy.”

Confirmation: Confirmation

Now addressing the issue of denominations within Protestantism, Ms. Evans notes:

…our various traditions seem a sweet and necessary grace.

Well…not ALL of them. Not the denominations that go against what she holds near and dear to her heart, namely women’s ordination and exclusion of the LGBTQ community from communion. But other than those groups, a sweet and necessary grace.

And so Ms. Evans clings to the Apostles’ Creed as the end-all of Christianity. To an extent, I agree. I think that there are more things that unite Christians than divide us. We like to get bogged down in the differences, but the basic elements of faith are identical from group to group.

But there is more to faith than the ancient creeds – things like sin lists and virtue lists (both in the Bible in multiple places). Christianity is more than reciting a creed. It’s about a faith that leads us to be more Christ-like. But what happens when you don’t have that faith? As she puts it, when you’re

swallowing down the bread and wine, not believing a word of it.

Not a word.

Then all you have is a creed. Dead words that mean nothing in the grand scheme of eternity.

Anointing of the Sick: Anointing of the Sick

This is another point where I think Ms. Evans gets it completely wrong. She makes a distinction between healing and curing. We’re called to heal, not to cure. She says:

The thing about healing, as opposed to curing, is that it is relationship. It takes time.

I don’t know where she’s coming up with this stuff, but it isn’t biblical. When Jesus sends his disciples out with his authority to preach and heal, the disciples HEALED THE SICK and cast out demons. It wasn’t relationship. It was about the power of God breaking through to our reality. It was a sign that the kingdom of God is HERE! In the New Testament we see other examples of the church laying on hands and praying for healing – for people to be cured of what ailed them. It is dishonest to the Bible to pretend that there is a difference between healing and curing.

While God doesn’t always answer prayer the way we’d like, we cannot pretend that biblical healing is anything other than God changing and repairing physical bodies. Can healing take place emotionally and relationally? Yes. But don’t downplay the power of God and what the Bible says about healing. Otherwise you turn God’s healing power into one big Kumbaya sing-along where we end up crying and hugging each other.

Marriage: Marriage

Here again I find myself agreeing with Ms. Evans. Following Jesus is a group activity and wasn’t ever intended to be a solo event. But it goes beyond that. The Church is called the Bride of Christ. Turning from Jesus is infidelity. There is no other way to the Father. The Church is His, and those who believe are called to be a part of it.

She gets it right when she says:

And the church universal is sacramental when it knows no geographic boundaries, no political parties, no single language or culture, and when it advances not through power and might, but through acts of love, joy, and peace and missions of mercy, kindness, humility.

So, yes.

THIS is what the church is supposed to look like in the world.

All said and done, the book can give you a good insight into what a lot of young people go through when they realize that the faith of their parents is not their own. The book will help you see Christianity from a liberal vantage point. In the end, I think the vantage point is hollow, substituting social action for genuine faith.

The local church will always be flawed because humans are flawed. That doesn’t mean the institution is flawed or that faith is lost. The Church belongs to Jesus, and we should do our best to be faithful to him and His Church.

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It has not been my intention to misrepresent the views or writings of Rachel Held Evans in any way. This has simply been my interpretation and response to what I read.

I welcome all discussion, just keep it civil and polite. If this post resonates with you in any way, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or email!

Whatcha Wanna Talk About?

Ask

I get a lot of questions from people. Some are deep, some are fun. Here are some of my favorites and my brief responses to them. If you’d like to talk about any of them more in depth I’d be happy to converse. So away we go!

– Is a believer’s baptism valid if the minister that performed it later renounces the faith?

Interesting question! Yes, it is still valid. Salvation comes by God’s grace through faith, not by immersion. Baptism is an outward sign of what God’s doing in the heart. The pastor doing the baptism doesn’t save or confer salvation.

– What are your thoughts on the future of organ music in churches?

Depends on the type of organ. A Hammond B3 rotary sound is popular again. I do think that the era of the pipe organ is waning. That’s okay, though, because musicianship is fluid and not static. Who plays the lyre in worship anymore? 🙂

– What do you think of the doctrine of the inerrancy of the bible? Do you see any errors or real contradictions?

I believe that the Bible is inspired. I think that inerrancy is a human way to try to protect the Bible because we don’t have a big enough view of God to believe simultaneously in inspiration & humanity within the text. That being said, I don’t think the Bible contains “contradictions” the way that angry atheists do when they try to poke holes in Scripture.

Since ancient thinking, writing, and narrative were different than contemporary thought, word, and narrative, it doesn’t make sense to force our understanding on the Bible. Since the advent of the printing press our culture has been obsessed with “historical truth” and “fact.” Oral societies don’t function in these concepts the same way we do.

Two storytellers from oral societies could each tell their version of a story and be “truthful” even though their stories might have slight variances. This is merely a part of storytelling, not error. For example, when Jesus exorcises demons and sends them into a herd of pigs how many demoniacs were there? Mark says 1. Matthew says 2. Who is right? It doesn’t really matter. The point is not the number of demon possessed men but the power encounter between Jesus and the demons.

The Bible contains these kinds of differences, but we should not view them as error or contradiction – merely the result of multiple people telling the story. It does not minimize or reduce the power and potency of Scripture to say that God used flawed humanity to communicate Divine truth.

– Are you opposed to the legalization of gay marriage?

I am opposed to the legalization of same-sex MARRIAGE. I believe that marriage is a spiritual event, not a state-sanctioned event. That being said, I do not believe that Christians should forbid people from living the way they want, so I would not oppose the legalization of same-sex unions (and the rights that go with) from a political point of view – but I think the state should stay out of the “marriage” business (and out of all of the church’s business, actually) and leave that to the church.

– If you could have anything you want for dinner tonight, what would you have?

Easy! Hotdogs and Mac & Cheese. It’s my fave. I’m a man of simple tastes. 🙂

– What is the Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything?

Respect God, keep his commandments, and never take life so seriously you can’t laugh at yourself 🙂

– Is it wrong to get piercings? My parents are freaking out about one little thing…

It is not wrong to get piercings. The Bible does talk about obeying and honoring parents. If you’re having trouble convincing them but REALLY want one, I would recommend waiting until you’re out on your own. Honor them before seeking to exercise your Xian freedom. 🙂

– What was the worst thing you ever ate?

Wasabi. Didn’t know what it was…

– Is there a passage in the bible that addresses swearing?

No, the Bible never addresses profanity. There are some passages about wholesome talk, but in context they’re not about saying four letter words. Now it IS a good practice to use real words to communicate rather than expletives (you’ll offend fewer people) but God won’t condemn you for profanity.

– Who is your favorite person in the Bible?

I know you mean besides Jesus – no Christian can have a favorite person above Jesus. After Jesus, one of my favorites is David.

He’s a tragic character who made a lot of personal and professional flubs, yet he is still remembered as “a man after God’s heart”.

David gives hope to schmucks like me. Though I mess up God can still use me for His purposes.