Monday, June 30, 2008

The Efficacy of Baptism

For me, Rob Rayburn nailed the “efficacy” issue in baptism in his recent colloquium address at the General Assembly of the PCA. To me, talking of the “efficacy” of baptism is rather strange. As I have already written, baptism and the Lord’s Supper are built on relationship. To speak of the “efficacy” of baptism is like talking about the efficacy of a new cold medication or a new cleaning product. To talk about the “efficacy” of baptism is like talking about the “efficacy” of sexual intercourse in my relationship with my wife. Generally, I eschew using the word “efficacy” when speaking of baptism.

But Rayburn effectively spoke of the efficacy of baptism in the relationship. By comparison, the following is a short snippet of Lig Duncan’s presentation:

The administrations of the covenant of grace in the Bible, and their signs, are all about our assurance of God’s promise. This is what every sacrament fundamentally sets forth. They do not effect or inaugurate God’s promise to us or our reception of it, but rather confirm and assure us of our interest in God’s promise.

Objectively, covenant signs do at least four things: (1) they display God’s promise; (2) they are, by the Holy Spirit, God’s means of confirming that promise to and in those who receive it by faith; (3) they openly manifest the church-world distinction; and (4) the (sic) visibly obligate us to respond, by grace, in faith to the promises, and in obedience to the obligations of the covenant of grace.

Subjectively, covenant signs do at least four things: (1) they enable the believer to apprehend God’s promise tangibly; (2) they assure the elect of God’s promise, and of its products for and in those who receive it by faith; (3) they impress upon the believer the particularity of the covenant of grace; and (4) they impel the disciple to a grace-based discipleship.
Two things strike me about this snippet. First, these “things” are generally sterile, self-implementing effects. Second, even the subjective “things” are very self-centered. I don’t want to be overly critical of Reverend Duncan, but I wish he would shift his perspective a little to incorporate the personality of Yahweh. For example, consider his statement, “They do not effect or inaugurate God’s promise to us or our reception of it, but rather confirm and assure us of our interest in God’s promise.” I would agree with this statement, but I would probably agree in a way that he would not expect. It is actually Yahweh who “effects or inaugurates God’s promise.” But He does it through these “things.” Therefore, they do more than simply impact the believer. They elicit a response from God, a response to which he has bound himself..

Two examples should suffice. First, there is a interesting interaction between Yahweh, Moses and his wife, Zipporah. At Exodus 4, verse 21 and following read as follows:

21And the LORD said to Moses, "When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. 22Then you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, 23and I say to you, "Let my son go that he may serve me." If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.'"

24At a lodging place on the way the LORD met him and sought to put him to death. 25Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it and said, "Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!" 26So he let him alone. It was then that she said, "A bridegroom of blood,"because of the circumcision.

This is an interesting transition between Yahweh’s introduction of himself to Moses as the great I AM to the actual events of the plagues and the exodus. Yahweh begins by claiming Israel as his first borne son so that that son will serve or worship Him. Yahweh promises to kill Egypt’s first born son if His son is not released.

However, at the lodging place, it becomes apparent that Moses has not followed the covenant that Yahweh made with Abraham. In Genesis 17, verse 10 and following, Yahweh says:

10This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.
There is a bit of irony going on here. Yahweh promised to be faithful to his covenant, but Moses had not. Since Moses broke the covenant by failing to circumcise his son, Yahweh sought to execute his judgment for the failure, to cut off the covenant breaker from his people. It was only upon Zipporah’s quick action that Moses was returned to a right relationship with Yahweh. “So he let him alone.” Circumcision did indeed do more than impact the believer. It appeased Yahweh, who sought faithfulness to His covenant.

Exodus 24 tells a similar story involving the covenant renewal worship service at Mount Sinai. Exodus 19 tells of Yahweh warning the people not to go up the mountain.

When Moses told the words of the people to the LORD, 10the LORD said to Moses, "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments 11and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, 'Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. 13No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.' When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain."

That warning is repeated again later. “24And the LORD said to him, "Go down, and come up bringing Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the LORD, lest he break out against them." 25So Moses went down to the people and told them.” But in chapter 24, Yahweh commanded Moses, “Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship from afar.” There is a change. The priests and the elders were commanded to “come up to Yahweh.” What happens next is important, for they did not immediately go up, and the delay is significant. In response, Moses built an alter and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings on it. He took half of the blood and threw it against the alter. He read the book of the covenant. Then he threw the rest of the blood on the people and declared, “Behold the blood of the covenant.” Then the people went up and saw the God of Israel and ate and drank with him. And the people were not destroyed.

Two things are worthy of note beyond the fact that the people were not destroyed. First, Moses declared the blood to be the blood of the covenant, the same phrase that Jesus took on his lips in initiating his memorial meal. Second, the peace offering was to be eaten. One can only conclude that it was the peace offering that the people ate in the presence of God. The conclusion is clear that the appointed sacrifices brought the people to a place of peace with God. They did more than simply communicate the truth of the covenant to the people. They were the means by which Yahweh accepted his people.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Pastor Wilson Has It Right Again

Pastor Wilson has it right again:

As the campaign unfolds, I will be writing more about all of this, but let this serve as a basic orientation.

This November, we are facing a choice between disaster A or disaster B. We are piloting a plane that is going to crash, and we have the choice of crashing in the sea or on the land. As I have mentioned before, I understand fully why many of my fellow conservatives would opt for crashing in the sea. Fine. We are going to do one or the other, and if you want to help decide, I certainly don't blame you. And maybe chances of survival are increased with one of the choices. But what I don't get is how my fellow conservatives can confuse "crashing in the sea" with "flying home safely."

Let me give just one "fer instance." In the most recent edition of Chronicles, Srdja Trifkovic rightly calls George Soros one of the "most evil men in the world," and the "Philanthropist From Hell." Conservatives who know this man's name likely know it from the common denunciations in our circles of the moonbat group, one cause among many for which Soros serves as Sugar Daddy. Sean Hannity and his like are ruthless in their denunciations of anyone who comes within fifty yards of Soros.

Except for John McCain. One of McCain's many grotestqueries was his co-sponsorship of McCain/Feingold, a bill that virtually annihilates free speech in the one area -- political campaigns -- where the Founders would have been most concerned to preserve it. Now conservatives are famously unhappy with McCain over that, thinking it an unfortunate lapse among a number of other unfortunate lapses.

But as Trifkovic reports, that whole business was tangled up with . . . George Soros. The Reform Institute was founded in 2001, and was pushing for "campaign-finance reform." That atrocity was chaired by John McCain until 2005. The initial funding for the Institute came from George Soros, and from the Teresa Heinz-Kerry Tides Foundation. You remember Teresa, don't you? And when it opened its doors in 2001, Arianna Huffington, a close associate of Soros, was on the board. And together they all conspired to outlaw individual citizens from telling the truth to the public during the course of a political campaign.

During the course of this coming campaign, you will probably hear the name of Soros a lot. But almost all of it will be connected to Obama -- and rightly so. "Vote Obama! Crash on the rocks!" Sure, Soros would want Obama. But he would be happy with McCain, and why conservatives would be happy with McCain is beyond me.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Missouri Choose Life License Plate Unveiled, Available for Purchase Statewide

by Steven Ertelt Editor
May 2, 2008

Jefferson City, MO ( -- After a long and successful legal battle, Missouri residents are now able to support adoption efforts with the purchase of a Choose Life license plate. Plate supporters unveiled the artwork for the plate in a capital reception surrounding by leaders of pro-life groups and state legislators.

In January, a federal district court judge ruled Missouri officials must let a proposal for Choose Life license plates move forward despite a rejection from a committee of lawmakers.

Choose Life of Missouri has been working on securing this life-affirming license play since 2005.

Using a 2004 law that allows lawmakers to block nonprofit groups seeking specialty license plates, two Missouri state senators halted the plates in February 2006.

The group filed suit in June 2006 and won legal victories at each key juncture. The Alliance Defense Fund represented the group and said Missouri officials never should have prevented its free speech rights and those of motorists.

"Pro-life organizations shouldn't be penalized for expressing their beliefs," ADF Senior Legal Counsel Joel Oster said. "Unfortunately, that’s how Missouri officials unfairly discriminated when they denied Choose Life the right to exercise their free speech rights."

The "Choose Life" license plate will help support pro-life pro-adoption efforts, pregnancy resource centers, maternity homes and adoption agencies in Missouri.

The group has set up a web site Missouri residents can use to purchase the plates.

Looking back on the battle, the law allowed any member of the Joint Committee on Transportation Oversight or any two state senators or five House members to stop a plate. Democratic Sens. Joan Bray and Rita Heard Days, both St. Louis abortion advocates, objected to the plates.

Senior U.S. District Judge Scott Wright eventually declared the law allowing the lawmakers to stop them unconstitutional saying there are no safeguards from the state discriminating against some groups of people, such as pro-life advocates.

Ultimately, the Choose Life plates across the nation have raised over $8.7 million and over 400,000 plates have been sold or renewed in the 17 state that currently have the plate available.

Related web sites: Choose Life Missouri -

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


"[T]he government of the United States is a definite government, confined to specified objects. It is not like the state governments, whose powers are more general. Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government."

-- James Madison (speech in the House of Representatives, 10 January 1794)

Madison had it right. Charity is not a part of the duty of the government. The duty of the government is to execute justice. It is never in furtherance of the ends of justice to take from some simply because they have more to give it to those who have less. In the words of Romans 13, the king exists to reward those that do good and to punish those who do evil. By confiscating property from those who have, government is decreeing that productivity is evil. This should not be. This does not mean, of course, that we should not be a people that have an attitude of charity. Deuteronomy makes that clear. There are three forms of charity that God expects: private giving, the tithe and gleaning.

Deuteronomy 14:28-29

28 "At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns. 29And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.

Deuteronomy 15:9-11

9Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, 'The seventh year, the year of release is near,' and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the LORD against you, and you be guilty of sin. 10You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. 11For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, 'You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.'

Deuteronomy 24:19-20

19 "When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.

The reader should also note that there is a promise of blessing for each of these to the extent they are practiced by the people. Therefore, as the government increases the burden of taxation on those who can provide for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, it prevents them from seeking the blessing of the Lord. Therefore, Madison is right: Charity is not a legislative duty of government. It is a duty of the people.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Religion in the Public Square

In the mid 1500 God used an unlikely tool to advance the English Reformation, King Henry VIII. For years now, the "religious right" has attempted to reintroduce religion back into our public discourse. William McGurn, in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal, suggests that today, like the mid 1500s, a change may be encouraged by an unlikely source, the left. See his editorial.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Salvation is Based on Relationship

How is a believer saved, through faith or by baptism? The answer to this question is “Yes.” If we look to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, starting at Question and answer 29 we find a progression of questions starting with “How are we made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ?” and ending with question 38, “What benefits do believers receive from Christ at the resurrection?” In the course of this very precise and systematic approach to the subject, the Catechism covers the progression from effectual calling, justification, adoption, sanctification and glorification. This is very helpful to the purpose of understanding the order of salvation.

But if this is all we know, we run the risk of systematizing God. God is a person, more precisely, he is three persons, in perfect relation one to the other. He has feelings. He is grieved. He has great joy. Certainly he saves his people through a process of effectual calling, justification, adoption, sanctification and glorification. However, he does it in time and in history. He does it in relationship.

What we must hang on the systematic theology is the passion that the Scripture speaks of when it speaks of Yahweh saving his people. When Scripture speaks of Yahweh saving his people, it speaks of “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” and “believe and be baptized.” There is a command to believe. Obviously, the command anticipates a subjective response, actual belief. But it also commands a specific response, “be baptized.” So it requires a subjective state of mind coupled with an action.

An example might be in order. As I raise my children, my discipline is based on a relationship between them and me. I love my children deeply and want their good. Even though there is a typical method to my discipline, it is not a barren methodology. If one of my children offends another of my children, my discipline typically includes the command, “Say you are sorry to your sister.” In response to this command, I suppose there are several responses my offending child could take. She could refuse and walk away. Obviously, in this case the discipline has not resulted in the reconciliation desired. She could cry with tears of repentance and kiss her sister but say nothing. This is better, she has not completed the act necessary to restore the relationship set forth in my command. She could grit her teeth and with anger declare, “I am sorry.” This response, although completing the act required, does not contain the genuine response expected. Only when she, with an understanding of the offense and the proper response, says with love and repentance, “I am sorry,” does the discipline accomplish the desired result, a restoration of the relationship.

God is our father. We have damaged our relationship with him in our sin. With love, he says, if you want to be forgiven, repent, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be baptized and you will be saved, you and your household. He has made a promise and his promise is good. Therefore, if I baptize my child in loving dependence upon his promise, in faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, as far as I know anything else, my child is saved. Is this conclusion based on a proven methodology? Is it automatic? No. It is based on a relationship and a promise.