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Every Baptism is For YOU

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 BY BENJAMIN R. LEE, Assistant Pastor, Oakwood Presbyterian Church 

     When I was in high school, I attended a Christian youth conference in Florida every summer with my evangelical church friends. It was a great time. Lots of preaching and singing and enjoying the wonders of creation on the beach. Because we were hearing the gospel every day it wasn’t uncommon for someone to profess faith for the first time while in Florida. So, just about every summer, we’d gather on the beach for a baptism service before heading home. At the time this practice seemed to make sense. New believers are supposed to be baptized. We had plenty of water at the beach. It certainly was memorable. Why not do it?

     If you’ve been around Oakwood for long, you know we place a specific emphasis on baptism. We want new believers to be baptized. We even want the children of believers to be baptized, just as we believe the Scriptures command (but that’s another blog). But if you were to attend a summer conference with our high school students, you would not see a special baptism service take place on the last day. Nor do we offer “private” baptism services for only the immediate family and friends of the recipient. In fact, the PCA’s Book of Church Order specifically forbids such practices (56-2). The PCA requires baptisms to be performed in the presence of the congregation on the Lord’s Day under the supervision of the session by an ordained minister.

     That might sound like the PCA is full of a bunch of crusty old theologians out to steal your fun, but there is a very good, reasonable, pastoral reason for these restrictions. We practice baptism in this way because we believe baptism, every baptism, whether your baptism, the baptism of a new believer, or the baptism of an infant, is for you.

     I know the ministers in the churches I grew up in had every good intention in baptizing those kids in the ocean, but in keeping these baptisms effectively private, they were withholding a real spiritual grace from their congregations back home. Most of us grew up in broadly evangelical church contexts where baptism was generally thought to be (mostly) about the person being baptized. Most of us grew up thinking that baptism was primarily about the testimony of the one being baptized. It was a way for a new believer to confess his new faith, and commit himself to follow Jesus. Because of that, baptism services were about celebrating the one being baptized. The congregation, if in attendance for those special baptism services, was there to witness the baptism. The congregation could celebrate new faith, and help the recipient to remain committed to Jesus, which are certainly good things. It wasn’t believed that either the recipient or the congregation, received anything. Maybe that’s why baptism services were often so scantly attended.

     The emphasis is different in Reformed churches, though. Reformed Churches do not believe that baptism is primarily a testimony of our faith and commitment to God. We believe that baptism is primarily the work of God where He testifies of His commitment to us in Jesus. That is why our confession speaks of baptism as a “sign and seal of ingrafting into [Christ], of remission of sin by his blood, and regeneration by his Spirit; of adoption, and resurrection unto everlasting life…” (WLC 165). That sign and seal language is important. Baptism is not our sign, that we will be faithful to God, but God’s sign that he has saved us through Jesus and will keep us to the end. Just as importantly, baptism is a seal. The Westminster Confession says that in baptism grace is not only promised, “but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Spirit” (28.6). In other words, through baptism, God confers grace to us so that his promises are sealed, or imprinted, on our hearts as we believe the gospel.

     That emphasis makes a tremendous difference in our practice of baptism. Baptism is for you. Even when you are not the one receiving the sacrament of baptism, baptism functions as a sign and seal of your salvation in Christ. Each baptism is meant to be for your life as a Christian what a nap is to your mid-afternoon. Baptism is a real spiritual grace that offers you spiritual refreshment in the gospel. As the Heidelberg Catechism teaches, in every baptism God wants “to assure us by this definite pledge and sign that we are as truly cleansed from our sins spiritually as we are bodily washed with water” (Q/A 73). This is why the Larger Catechism speaks of “improving” our baptism in question 167. As we remember and reflect upon our baptism and the nature of the sacrament God continues to sign and seal the benefits of the gospel to us, resulting in our growth in the faith.

     That’s why every baptism must take place in the context of the congregation on the Lord’s Day. God wants you to be there so that he can once again sign and seal to your heart the promise of the gospel through the baptism of a new believer or an infant. In every baptism, you receive spiritual grace.

     Remember that the next time we practice the sacrament of baptism on the Lord’s Day. B.B. Warfield once wrote, “Every time we baptize an infant we bear witness that salvation is from God, that we cannot do any good thing to secure it, that we receive it from his hands as a sheer gift of his grace, and that we all enter the kingdom of heaven therefore as little children, who do not, but are done for.” See that baby, or that adult believer, receiving the sign and seal of the covenant of grace and drink in the promises of God applied to you through Jesus. And as you do, rest in Jesus. His blood has been shed for you. He has been raised for you. In Him you have been cleansed from all your sin, and will be raised on the last day.

Posted by Rev. Ben Lee with

Urgent or Important

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BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor, Oakwood Presbyterian Church

     Do you know what one of my favorite days of the year is? It's that day in the fall when we get to turn our clocks back one hour due to the change from Daylight Saving Time. Depending on your tendencies, it gives that annual gift of an extra hour to either sleep or stay awake. Since fall, with the end of the vacation season and the beginning of the school year, is one of the most hectic times of the year, that extra hour always seems bigger than it really is.

     To be honest, that extra hour has never really made any significant difference in my life. But what if we could add an hour to every day? Or, better yet, what if we could add four or five hours to every day? Would our lives be more productive or more relaxed if we had 20% more time in a day? Maybe, but the likelihood is that we would still be as stressed out and frustrated by our schedules as we are now. Just as your living expenses always manage to rise to meet your income, so your "time sinks" and responsibilities always seem to expand to fill your Day-Timer. So, if more hours in a day isn't the answer, then what is? Is there any way out of these stress-filled lifestyles?

     Let's stop and analyze this statement: "There are not enough hours in the day..." If that's really the case, then who should we blame for our frustration and anxiety? The only answer could be God since He's the one who created our days and who numbers our years. But we can't blame God - He has given us the perfect amount of time to do all that He's asked us to do. Well, then what's the alternative? It can only be that we are spending our time on a lot of things that He hasn't asked us to do!

     Many years ago Charles Hummel wrote, "Several years ago an experienced cotton-mill manager said to me, 'Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important.' We live in the constant tension between the urgent and the important. The problem is that the important task rarely must be done today or even this week. Extra hours of prayer and Bible study, a visit with that non-Christian friend, careful study of an important book: these projects can wait. But the urgent tasks call for instant action - endless demands pressure every hour and day." It all comes down to priorities, and it takes wisdom from above to be able to say "yes" to the things that God asks us to do with our time and to say "no" to those things (some of them very good things) that He hasn't asked us to do.

     The key to discerning between the urgent and the important is in creating what I call "holy spaces" in your life. These are the times that God has commanded you to have, where you truly rest - physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And these are the times where you enter into life's most crucial activity - "waiting on the Lord." It is through being quiet before Him, reading His Word, and praying to Him that you get your direction from God about what is really important in your schedule. You must have "holy space" every day and you need the "holy day" (the Lord's Day) every week in order to re-align your priorities and to receive your marching orders. If you squeeze those holy spaces out of your life then you can expect to wander astray from God's will and to get stressed out in the process.

     Jesus said to the Father near the end of His earthly ministry, "I have brought You glory on earth by completing the work You gave Me to do." Could you end any day of your life by confidently asserting to God, "I have completed everything You gave me to do today?" How much less could any of us say that about our entire lives?! The difference is that Jesus knew what He was called to do, the difference between the urgent and the important. And here lies the key to deliverance from our frazzled lifestyles.

     "The length of our days is seventy years - or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away...Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."  Psalm 90:10, 12

Posted by Rev. Dan Kiehl with

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