1. A Horse and His Boy by Lewis
2. The Shaping of the Reformed Baptismal Rite in the Sixteenth Century by Old
3. 100 Cupboards by Wilson
Archives For January 2008
1. A Horse and His Boy by Lewis
I said last week that this table is political. Here, our King calls us to his table and communes with us as his subjects, and we enact our loyalty and allegiance to our King. But this table also reveals God’s political bias. We tend to divide politics into conservative and liberal, and this means different things for different areas of life. But this table is a picture of what God expects of his people. Here God gives us himself, he gives us back to one another, he gives us the world, he gives us his joy and forgiveness. And he gives it all liberally, freely, with open hands. God is our great King, and he keeps giving week after week, day after day. The beggar mentality sees food, hordes it, and scarfs it down because it does not believe there will be more even though the King will be coming by again very soon. But notice how God deals with us. We are all poor beggars in need of mercy, in need of grace, and God comes with open hands and gives and gives and gives. The unrepentant heart does not realize that this is simply the way God is and continues to horde, continues to covet, continues to steal from fellow beggars. But the repentant heart suddenly realizes or comes to realize over a period of time that this is just the way God is. And this realization turns him or her into royalty, into nobility. Because when you realize that all you have is from the King, and the King keeps giving, then you are free to give, you are freed to care for others. You are freed not to worry about what you will eat, what you will drink, what you will wear. The King will provide all these things and more. And so it is here at the Eucharist. Here the King gives you himself; all that is his is at your disposal. In other words, in this sense the liberals are right. The way to deal with poverty is to pile gifts and riches and blessings on those without. The problem with most liberals is that they don’t know what good gifts, true riches, and real blessings are. But our God has them all at his disposal, and he invites us to his feast. So come, eat, drink and rejoice.
Opening Prayer: Almighty God, we come before you as your people, bought and purchased with the blood of Christ. We are your possessions, your holy ones, and therefore we submit ourselves to you. We know that true freedom is found in your life, and therefore we ask that you would bestow that life upon us even more now by the working of your Spirit. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!
We come now to the Eighth Commandment which prohibits stealing. Here the reality of private property is established, but since we serve the Trinity, our understanding of possessions must necessarily be patterned after the God of Scripture.
Free to Serve
Numerous theologians and commentaries have noticed that the Bible repeatedly focuses on kidnapping as a significant part of the eighth commandment. Our passage protects runaway slaves (23:15-16), but the law flatly prohibits kidnapping and the slave trade in both the Old Testament (Ex. 21:16, Dt. 24:7) and New Testament (1 Tim. 1:10). In other words, stealing is ultimately a sort of enslavement. Remember that it was Yahweh who delivered Israel from being slaves in Egypt, and he freed them in order that they might serve him (Ex. 20:2). Freedom is not abstract; it is a highly personal reality. There is no freedom in absolute isolation. The Trinity is ultimate freedom, and there the persons give themselves to one another and defend the honor and glory of one another. Because we are God’s nobility, he bestows gifts upon us. He gives us work, food, clothing, housing, a wife, a husband, children, health, safety, and so many other good gifts. Stealing a man or woman or child is ultimately stealing from Yahweh; stealing someone’s possessions is stealing a gift that God has given them to serve him and others with.
Restitution is not penance. Restitution is not “paying for” your sin/crime; it is not appeasing God with good works. Restitution is the embodiment of repentance to the extent possible. It is embracing God’s justice. To repent is to turn away from a particular kind of sin and turn toward righteousness (e.g. Eph. 4:20-32). This means that repenting of particular sins often entails restitution. When someone has lied, they repent by not only confessing that they lied but also by telling the truth (it may also include financial restitution). The principle of restitution is ultimately embodied in the doctrine of the atonement. The wages of sin is death, and Jesus paid this penalty on our behalf on the cross (punishment) and brought us back into fellowship with God (restoration). This justice is the standard of God’s dealings throughout history (e.g. Gen. 9:6, Ex. 21:23-25, Jer. 50:29, Obadiah 15). This means that God calls his people to imitate him in this. This requires: First, restoration of accidental damage or loss (Ex. 21:28-36; 22:10-15). Second, a thief is to restore double what has been stolen and in certain cases four or five times what was stolen (Ex. 22:1, 4, 7, 9). The thief who steals and confesses must restore what he has stolen plus 20% (a tithe on the double payment due by the unrepentant thief) (Lev. 6:1-7). But if the atonement is the ultimate example of this restitution justice then it is clear that this is really nothing less than love. When we have wronged a brother or sister, love not only confesses the wrong, love takes upon one’s self the loss in order to restore the offense. This is why the prison system is so unfortunate: where restitution allows for personal offences to be repaid and reconciliation to take place, prisons create this impersonal “society” that debts cannot really be paid to.
Conclusions and Applications
First, our passage in Dt. 23:24-25 distinguishes between property damage/theft and negligible “neighborly use.” Just as it is not a crime for a neighbor to pick a few heads of grain in a farmer’s field, it is not a sin (or crime) to accidentally walk off with the bank’s pen, borrow a paper clip and forget to return it, or pick up change off the ground. Conversely, we should not be annoyed at but rather welcome this kind of “neighborly use” by others. God requires his people to be open handed just as he is (Dt. 15:7ff), and some tender consciences need to be told to let these things go.
Second, we need to be aware of the sort of theft that we are most likely tempted to commit. The prophets have harsh words for the rich: exploitation of the poor and the ignorant is stealing (Amos 8:4-6, Matt. 23:14), withholding wages from workers is stealing (Jer. 22:13-17, Js. 5:4), and refusing to care for widows and orphans is stealing (Ex. 23:11, Dt. 15:8, 11). Neglecting to tithe is stealing from God (Mal. 3:8). More generally, we must insist that certain forms of interest/usury are theft (Dt. 23:19-20), even if you’re wearing a suit and tie and call it “property tax” or “eminent domain.” If it results in forcing owners out of their homes it is stealing.
We serve the God who redeems us (1 Pet. 1:18-19). But this character of God’s is fundamental to the Trinity. The Father, Son, and Spirit eternally give themselves up for one another, eternally free the other persons of the Trinity to use their gifts. You are called to imitate the Trinity in this: love the gifts of your neighbor, rejoice in what God has bestowed upon those around you, and give liberally.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Father, we thank you for how you have blessed with so many good things. Teach us rejoice in these gifts and rejoice in the gifts you have given others. Empower us to give ourselves up for our neighbors, our friends, and even our enemies, that we might show your grace and mercy to all even as you have done as much for us.
Epiphany is the manifestation of God in Christ. We celebrate the coming of the Magi as the revelation of God as King over all the nations. We celebrate the baptism of Jesus as the revelation of the Trinity, and God’s intentions to cleanse us from out sin. We also celebrate Christ’s first miracle, turning water into wine at the wedding of Cana. There are a number of layers that episode in John, but we should not fail to notice that Jesus does not just any water to perform his miracle; he uses the water that had been set aside for purification. In other words, in that miracle, Jesus takes the old Jewish purification rites and turns them into the wine of a marriage feast. This does not mean that God is unconcerned about purification and cleansing; it means that God is revealing more fully how he intends to cleanse us, how he intends to deal with our sins, and overcome our weakness. God’s way purification and cleansing is through the joy and gladness – but not mindless joy or forced smiles. In Nehemiah 8, when the people hear the law and it is explained to them, they, like all people should, realized how short they have come. They realize their need for cleansing, their need for forgiveness, and their need for purification and the text says that they wept. But God sent them home not to mourn but he said: “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our LORD. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” You are gathered here in the presence of God with all of your challenges, with all of your fears, with all of your needs, with all of your burdens, with all of your hurts, pains, and guilt, but you are called upon to put it all down. We are not here to grovel and moan and steep in our weakness. You are called to confess your sins and then hear God’s promise of forgiveness and believe it and rejoice. This day is holy to our Lord; eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared. For the joy of the Lord is your strength.
I want to direct this meditation in two directions this morning. First, to the saints of Holy Trinity: To some of you, it may seem a little odd to be having a baptism of this gentleman that we have just met a week or two ago. But the lesson that has just been read and others like it record the apostolic pattern of baptism. Paul explained that salvation is through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and after speaking the word of the Lord to the jailor, he was baptized at that very hour, in the middle of the night! Jesus sent his apostles and ministers out into the world to make disciples by baptizing them and teaching them. This means that baptism ought not ordinarily to be the culmination of much study and training; rather it is the beginning of a life of discipleship, the enrollment in the school of Jesus. But this fact is actually re-enforced every time we have an infant or small child baptized. It was Jesus who said that “unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me” (Mt. 18:4-5). Jesus says that everyone who enters the kingdom of heaven enters as a child. In other words, every baptism is an infant baptism. Everyone who desires to come to God must come as a little child. This is why baptism comes at the beginning of discipleship and should happen as soon as possible. Whether a person is 2 weeks old or 30 years old or 60 years old when God interrupts a person’s life with his grace, that person enters the kingdom as a child, as an infant, completely new, completely helpless, completely dependent on the kindness and mercy of God. Salvation is all of grace. A forty year old can no more save himself than a two week old.
And it is in this light that I exhort you, Rocky. I call upon you to recognize that you are coming to God as a child. You come in need of forgiveness. You come in need of cleansing. You come in need of wisdom. You come in need of new life. And as a minister of the gospel, I have been authorized to declare to you that all of these things are found in the Lord Jesus Christ. And I call upon you to believe this. Believe it deep down in your bones. Your salvation, your forgiveness, your justification, all that God promises to give you is a free gift given you for the sake of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You cannot earn any of this. All of our best deeds are still filthy rags before the perfect holiness of our God. This baptism is your assurance that God forgives. He promises to remove your sin as far as the east is from the west, and from the moment of your baptism, you must know and believe that you are a beloved son of God and Dayla is a beloved daughter of God. This is the gospel, the good news, Rocky. And it is good news for you. Believe this good news, embrace it, and give thanks.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Some in the recent presbyterian debates have suggested that God has given us the covenant and the sacraments, and that it is not really our responsibility to search the secret things of God. We don’t have access to the list of the elect to glory. We have God’s Word. We have baptism and the Eucharist, and these are God’s sure promises to us. Bucer clearly taught similarly when he said regarding infant baptism, “It is the church’s task to follow God’s promises, not election, not attitude of the heart.” Elsewhere, in a marginal notation, he says, “In conferring sacraments, regard is to be had to God’s promise, not to election” (Wright, 101).
More from D.F. Wright:
He quotes Bucer in his Ephesians commentary of 1527 as saying, “Faith and the Spirit are God’s gift; he bestows them when he sees fit, not at our word. Certainly those who, as believers already, were baptized by the apostles, had previously been sealed by the Holy Spirit and received faith: what then did baptism or the word of the baptizer confer on them? So too our infants: if they were chosen of God before the foundations of the world were laid, the Lord will grant them the Spirit and faith when he sees fit, but our washing them with water will not for one moment grant them faith or God’s Spirit – as some important persons affirm, no less ill-advisedly than irreligiously” (97). The rhetorical question in the above paragraph seems to imply a negative answer. To the adult already converted, baptism would seem to “confer” nothing.
Similarly, in the mid-1520s, Bucer explained to Luther that he found comfort in the fact that baptism was “external” for since the baptism of adults would “comply better with Scripture and the church’s primitive usage, ‘nevertheless we should not be too reluctant to concede this to the general consensus, that we baptize infants.’” (98).
Wright notes, as we have previously seen in Grund und Ursach, that Bucer attributed passages like Titus 3:5-6 and Ephesians 5:25-26 to “the baptism of Christ who baptizes with the Spirit, and not by baptism of a human being baptizing with water” (98).
In 1527, Bucer suggests that they baptize infants mostly for the peace of the church, but “if it required something different, we would not be at all reluctant to delay baptizing infants, while ever acknowledging that our children are holy and belong to Christ’s until as adults by their own lives they show it to be otherwise” (98).
Likewise in Grund und Ursach, Bucer insists that this controversy over infant baptism is of minimal importance. He says that if there is “someone who delays baptism and desires to do so among those with whom he lives, without destroying love and unity, we in no way desire to quarrel with him about this, nor to condemn him… ‘The kingdom of God is not eating or drinking,’ neither is it baptism with water…”
Obviously things have changed between this point in the mid-1520s and the mid-1530s where infant baptism is required by church statute.
Turns out I do have some of David Wright’s work on Bucer in the form of Martin Bucer: Reforming Church and Community.
Wright notes that under Bucer’s direction, the Strasbourg church ordinance of 1534required that “all children born to citizens must be baptized as infants” (96). Infants were required to be brought within six weeks of birth upon threat of punishment, including banishment, if parents refused. Bucer saw this requirement not merely as a theological necessity but more broadly as essential to the “preservation of the unified Christian community.” Even appealing to Plato, Bucer justified the baptism of children of “godless parents” by appealing to the fact that children “belong more to the ‘respublica’ (‘der gemein und stadt’) than to their own parents” (97).
What is quite striking about Bucer’s theology of baptism is the differences between his Grund und Ursach (c. 1524) and his commentary on the Book of Common Prayer (c. 1549). As Steven pointed out in the comments below, it is generally recognized that there was considerable development in Bucer’s baptismal theology throughout his ministry. Initially, he studied under Luther, then under Zwingli, and towards the end of his ministry was again working closely with Luther. In his early ministry, he faced the greatest hostility from Roman Catholics and (apparently) misunderstood Lutherans. Later, he faced the growing pressures of the Anabaptist movement.
Here are a few selections from his Commentary on the Book of Common Prayer:
1. Discussing the proper days for the baptism of infants, Bucer recommends having baptisms on feast days when the entire church is most likely to be present This is desirable so that the people of the church may be reminded of their own baptism and “the covenant of salvation [foederis salutis] which he undertook in his baptism.” Furthermore, it is fitting that fellow members of Christ “should be present in good numbers when one of their children, born to eternal death, is to be born in the church to everlasting life and taken into the number of the sons of God. In this way they may pray God for that benefit and at the same time confer [una conferant] it upon him through the minister in the company of Christ’s church…” Bucer goes on to say that at the same time, the infant and those witnessing the baptism are received into one another, being mutually bound by the “obligations of Christian fellowship.” Presumably, Bucer has the “covenant of salvation” previously mentioned in mind here. Finally, on the same subject, Bucer says that these things ought to be taught to the ministers performing the baptisms since many of them are more interested in all the extra trappings and theatrics than “for the things which belong to baptism and rebirth [regenerationis].” Of note here is that while regeneration and baptism are distinguished, there appears to be little (if any) separation in time. Clearly, the “covenant of salvation” is contracted in the rite of baptism, but the congregation is also to pray for “that benefit,” which presumably is “life everlasting” and adoption as a son of God, and that benefit is in fact to be conferred upon the infant by the minister “at the same time.” Obviously, Bucer is not qualifying and distinguishing the “sign” and its “effects” with the same scrupulousness evidenced in the earlier writings found in Grund und Ursach.
2. Bucer comments on a later section and agrees that baptism of infants should be sought from a minister and it ought to be done so in a timely fashion. He also says that they ought to make their request “respectfully” since “unless men show the greatest respect for the mysteries of Christ they receive them to their judgment.” This seems to be quite a bit different from the earlier sentiment where Bucer suggested that improper baptisms or baptisms of non-elect were just “wasted water,” nothing but “water and prayer.” Here, there is not merely the risk of getting wet and wasting a few words; here Bucer says that one risks judgment if proper respect is not offered the “mysteries of Christ.”
3. Bucer says that there is no need to retain the older practice of baptizing infants at the door of the church. Bucer seems to think that this part of the ceremony was meant to underline the fact that infants are conceived and born in sin. Bucer says that while this is true and in fact explicitly recognized by the prayers and very act of baptism, the fact that the children of the faithful are “holy” should also be emphasized and “therefore [they] have the right to be taken into the church and to be sanctified in baptism.” For this reason Bucer favors bringing the infant all the way into the church, into the midst of the gathered assembly. He says that baptizing at the door is among those “theatrical actions” which merely complicate the ceremony, and “the proper duty of Christians is to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth, and to do nothing on any occasion, least of all at the holy mysteries of our redemption and rebirth [regenerationis] to eternal life, which is imprudent and careless…” Preserving this simplicity and performing the baptism in the midst of the people will increase the common understanding of the sacrament and “reverence for this first and greatest [huius summi, et primi] sacrament” will be restored. It is rather striking that Bucer calls baptism the “first and greatest sacrament.”
4. Against the consecration of baptismal water, Bucer insists that “baptism is the sacrament of washing away sins … because the Lord gained it for us not only by his baptism in the Jordan but also and much more by the baptism of the cross.” And Bucer explains that “although water is used in baptism to confer [conferendam] the washing away of sins, yet this effect is not the work of water but of the Lord Christ.” Later, commenting on another section with regard to the same idea, he explains that sacraments are not material elements which may be charged (consecrated) with some kind of power that is then transferred to people, but rather “sacraments exist in their use, they are actions, by which the Lord gives remission of sins and the communion of himself to his people, not to water, not to bread and wine: and these gifts are made when these signs are set out and received in conjunction with his word and in obedience to his commands.” Clearly, Bucer has continued to preserve some of his old baptismal theology in so far as the action of the sacrament is dependent upon the work of God and not some quality resident in the sacramental elements.
5. Finally, it is interesting that towards the end of Bucer’s comments on baptism, where he focuses his attention on catechesis and confirmation, he suggests that many confirmations result from merely parroted answers to questions and not necessarily true professions of faith. While he says that these children ought to be prayed for and given access to the common prayers and praises of God’s people (regardless of “their age and degree of faith”), until they are obviously displaying “the fruits of the spirit, the giver of new birth [Spiritus Regeneratoris fructus, lit. "the fruits of the Spirit of Regeneration"].” He explains that they should not yet make confessions of faith since “the covenant of salvation [foedus salutis] is established by God by people who understand it and desire it…” Again, with regard to children/catechumens Bucer insists that they ought not be permitted to the Eucharist or “full communion of Christ” those who show by their lives either an abundance of the works of the flesh or a lack of the fruits of the spirit and ought to remain among the catechumens “until the Lord directs them to receive fully the rebirth [regenerationem] which he offered them in baptism and to make progress in their behavior [vita].” Here, Bucer comes closer to reestablishing some of those older distinctions, but they appear to be in some tension with his other comments in this document. Perhaps the most obvious is the “covenant of salvation” language. Earlier he identified entrance into that covenant as occurring at baptism, and explicitly at the baptism of infants. Here he says that the covenant is with those who have sufficient understanding to make an intelligent and meaningful profession of faith. Likewise, it is unclear how regeneration/the new birth is conferred in baptism on the one hand but also merely offered to be received fully at some later point in life. Bucer says that this distinction between the “undoubted people of God and those who in effect declare that they are not yet of his people [i.e. children/catechumens]” will not be harmful to the state or society since “this distinction is commanded by God, who cannot command anything which is not beneficial…” Bucer then cites 2 Cor. 6 and Matthew 18 for the need for church discipline as well as Lev. 26, Acts 2 and 5, and 2 Thess. 3 in support of his claim. And yet one wonders how baptism can be a means of uniting the infant to the people of the church, being received by those already in communion and regarded as a “son of God” and at the same time still be considered “not yet of his people.”