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New Horizons

March, 2008: Baptism

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Baptism in Our Confessional Standards

Baptism testifies to us of God's gracious, saving work (Matt. 28:19). He uses means to communicate his saving grace to his people by his Spirit (Acts 2:37-47). Christ's mediatorial work (Westminster Confession of Faith, chap. 8) is applied to us, then, by his Spirit through appointed means, namely, the Word, the sacraments, and prayer (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 88; WCF 25.3). Baptism, as a sacrament, is one of those means.

That God gives us his salvation through means indicates that he is no distant, absentee landlord, but a God who delights to dwell with his people and to draw near to them as they draw near to him (and each other, WCF 26.1) in the means of grace. A right understanding of the Spirit's ministry to us through the means of grace serves as an antidote to the practical deism that can afflict us even in the Reformed faith. Read more

A Better Case for "Infant Baptism"

October 19, 2006, brought a long-awaited "great debate" between Dr. James White and myself on the topic, "Resolved: The subjects of Christian baptism are only those who have personally repented and believed in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord."

Dr. White, pastor of a Reformed Baptist church in Phoenix, Arizona, a well-known author, and the director of Alpha Omega Ministries (a Christian apologetics organization), presented and defended the affirmative. I, as a "paedobaptist," presented and defended the negative. Dr. White and I have been friends for many years, and we approached the debate as Christian brothers and fellow servants of Christ. Many commented on that aspect of the debate. It was attended by perhaps five hundred people. Read more

Prison Ministry

Jesus offers a challenge to his disciples: "Do you not say, 'There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest'? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest" (John 4:35).

Like the apostles, we often find that, while we can see the fields, we're unsure of how to gather in the harvest. What tool could possibly yield so many hearts for Christ? For many congregations, the answer is prison ministry. Read more

The New Atheism

In recent months, atheism has become big news, and has also demonstrated its tremendous market potential. Books by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris have proved very popular; Dawkins and Harris, at least, have proved to be best sellers. I have lost count of the number of times I have seen people sitting on the train or on a bench reading one of their works. As to Hitchens, he is surely one of the sharpest journalistic minds at work today, and nothing he writes is, in my experience, less than stimulating and thought provoking. And this readable atheism is no preserve of the nonfiction section of Waterstones or Borders. With Phillip Pullman's popular fantasy novels, such as The Amber Spyglass, atheism has found its very own C. S. Lewis: a gifted writer of exciting adventure stories, which might well be described as epics of anti-Narnianism.

Atheism is, of course, nothing new. Nor is the use of compelling and exciting prose to communicate such. Throughout the centuries, some of the greatest masters of prose have been committed to striking at the very foundations of orthodox Christian belief. Whether we think of the great literary genius of John Milton or the firebrand pamphlets of the amazing Tom Paine, Christianity has often been thumped by master wordsmiths. And, of course, there was Friedrich Nietzsche, the eccentric genius of late nineteenth-century German philosophy, whose aphorisms and spellbinding epic, Thus Spake Zarathustra, can fail to fascinate only those with the dullest of literary and philosophical sensibilities. There is, however, an interesting shift taking place in the kinds of arguments which the new, trendy atheists are making. Read more

Helps for Worship #27: How Should I Come to the Supper?

"Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup." (1 Cor. 11:28)

Westerners tend to be reductionistic in their thinking: everything should be reduced to one all-encompassing idea. So we say things like: "Worship must be joyful." "Worship must be serious." "Worship must be God-centered." In fact, worship is all of those things, and many more. Read more

College Chapel

Dear James,

I was talking to your Mom after church last Sunday, and she mentioned that my last letter to you was somewhat beside the point. She says you are convinced that going to church for Sunday evening worship is a good way to keep the entire Sabbath holy, even if studies and socializing sometimes prove to be distracting. The real trouble you face on the worship front is college chapel. She did not elaborate, but I can well imagine your objections. Read more

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