The hot button discussion in American Evangelicalism this week is the recently released “Nashville Statement”. This is an attempt by some Reformed Evangelicals to clarify their views on sexuality; the statement has raised a fair amount of agreement and a fair amount of disagreement. Given the theological diversity of my friends, some have loved it and others have found it terrible. You can see the diversity of public opinion within “15 Reactions For And Against the Nashville Statement.” In my opinion, the following posts have been tremendously helpful in thinking about #NashvilleStatement: [Read more…]
Throughout the 2,000 year history of the Church, the subject of baptism has produced a wide variety of approaches. It is essentially impossible to suggest that the Church has a monolithic approach to the topic because history proves otherwise. And while baptismal approaches vary, if one were to attempt to simplify the topic, there are basically two approaches to who should be baptized: those who believe that anyone, regardless of age, or those who believe only professing Christians. Those who support the baptism of infants/babies are known as Paedobaptists, coming from the Greek word pais, meaning “child.” Those who believe that only professing Christians should be baptized care called Credobaptists, coming from the Latin word credo, meaning “I believe.”
Now there are a variety of arguments for each of these views, and there are also some differences in how the views are applied. For example, with Paedobaptists, there are differences between Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and the Reformed. My good friend, Able Baker, recently wrote a great post summarizing the Reformed perspective on Paedobaptism, “Four Simple Reasons Why We Baptize Infants.” I think Able’s post is a really helpful explanation toward understanding why his church tradition proceeds to baptize the infants of Christian parents, over and against baptizing all infants because of the Roman Catholic doctrine of Original Sin. In other words, Able’s perspective doesn’t see baptism as salvific. You can’t charge him with teaching that people are saved because they get baptized.
While I really enjoyed Able’s post and think it’s a great summary and explanation of his view, I thought it might be helpful for our readers to consider another perspective… mine! Well, it’s not really “mine” because it’s a view that many others have and I’m indebted to a wide range of scholars and pastors who have articulated it in far more helpful ways than I’m sure I will. So here goes…
Toward a “Complex” Theology of Baptism
One of the reasons why I really enjoyed Able’s post is because it was simple, though not simplistic. Able cut right to the heart of why his congregation baptizes infants in four easily understandable ways. To summarize his simple explanation, he gave these four reasons:
- Baptism starts the discipleship process.
- Life-long discipleship is a better understanding of Covenant and being “saved” than a one-time decision.
- Baptism is an outward sign pointing to God’s gracious work through Christ.
- The heart is the “target” of the sign of baptism.
Guess what? Even though I disagree that infants should be baptized (mostly), I totally agree with each of these points (mostly).
Now the perspective I’m going to “argue” for is going to be a bit more complex than Able’s post, so I want to give a brief explanation about that. Knowing Able, he could easily have written a scholarly post defending his view. But because he’s a great pastor and understands that theology needs to be “practical” and “practiced,” he avoided writing a theological tome. Thank you, Able!
“Well what about you, Luke? Don’t you think theology should be practical? Why are you going to make this so dang complex?” Great question. What I mean by complex is not “difficult to understand” or “full of technical jargon.” I mean “complex” in the sense that my perspective might be something either new or maybe even a bit confusing. I’m moving toward a more complex approach to baptism because, quite frankly, none of the current options really satisfy my own understanding of Scripture, church history, and my own experience, not to mention the challenges of being a pastor in a global post-everything world.
So let me just lay out a couple of opinions that I have… ideas with probably little actual “supporting evidence.” Maybe these are just hunches? I don’t know. But here they are:
(1) Baptism doesn’t “justify” people in that it is not the means by which people enter into a relationship with God the Father through God the Spirit by the work of God the Son.
(2) Something happens, ontologically, when people are baptized. I just have no idea what it is… and fully assume that opinion is shaped by my sacramental theology.
(3) Unity is not the same thing as uniformity, and the fact that Christians have refused to celebrate the Eucharist with other Christians because they disagreed on whether infants should or shouldn’t be baptized is absolutely ridiculous.
(4) Discipleship is far more costly and far more important than many western Christians understand. What this has to do with my view on baptism may be missed, but it’s deeply connected to my position.
(5) Baptism is a sacramental experience and a Sacrament (see #2).
The view I’m going to argue for is complex. It’s not quite Credobaptism and yet it’s definitely not Paedobaptism. “So what is it,” you might ask? Boy you ask good questions! Here’s my current view:
I hold to a modified Credobaptism perspective that prioritizes Credobaptism as the normative and most “biblical” view while making room for Paedobaptism for missional, contextual, and ecumenical grounds, which basically fleshes out to being a modified Dual-Baptism.
Yes, that was a mouthful.
What in the World is “Dual-Baptism”?
I’m glad you asked. The “Dual-Baptism” perspective is the position that Dr. Tony Lane, of the London School of Theology, argues for in Baptism: Three Views as well as a position articulated in Michael Bird’s Evangelical Theology. Now most of you aren’t going to immediately click on those links to purchase those books, though you should. So I’ll provide you with a snapshot of the Dual-Baptism view.
First, Michael Bird:
A third position is for churches to permit both views of baptism, credo- and paedo-, to be practiced side by side. This policy of dual baptism is held by the Nazarene Church, American Evangelical Covenant Church, Evangelical Free Church, French Reformed Church, and Presbyterian Church (USA). John Bunyan, the Baptist Puritan and author of Pilgrim’s Progress, accepted paedobaptists into fellowship… Although I started out as a credobaptist and moved to becoming a paedobaptist, it is this dual-baptism view that I admittedly gravitate to because I think it allows us to hold together two competing theologies on a nonessential matter of the faith. A dual-baptism position enables us to make sure that baptism, a symbol of the gospel, becomes a means of gospel unity, rather than an occasion for division in the already-all-too-much divided churches. (Michael Bird, Evangelical Theology, 768-771)
Secondly, Tony Lane:
The New Testament practice of baptism was converts’ baptism, the immediate baptism of those who come to faith as part of their initial response to the gospel. This needs to be modified for children born into a Christian home, either into infant baptism or into baptism at a later date. The New Testament evidence for how such children were treated is not unambiguous. Both approaches can be defended on biblical grounds. No grounds exist for insisting on one to the exclusion of the other. This policy of accepting diversity is the only policy for which the first four centuries of the church provide any clear evidence.” (Tony Lane, Baptism: Three views, 171)
So the “Dual-Baptism” view humbly allows for both the Paedobaptist and Credobaptist views to exist side by side and does not allow the Sacrament to divide churches. It recognizes that there are good biblical and theological arguments, not to mention the practical reasons, for both perspectives.
Wait, You said a “Modified” Approach
Yes, I did. As I noted, I’m not convinced that the exegesis provided by Paedobaptists works. I see absolutely no reason to view the “household” baptisms in Acts 16:15, 33, and 1 Cor. 1:16 as requiring one to assume that infants were baptized. On the contrary, I think the exegesis demands one to recognize that the biblical authors, Luke and Paul, carefully articulate this in ways highly unlikely.
For example, lets look at the case of the Philippian jailer:
They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.” And they shared the word of the Lord with him and with all who lived in his household. Even at that hour of the night, the jailer cared for them and washed their wounds. Then he and everyone in his household were immediately baptized. He brought them into his house and set a meal before them, and he and his entire household rejoiced because they all believed in God.” (Acts 16:31–34 NLT)
Note that (1) Paul and Silas told the jailer and everyone(!) in his household to “believe in the Lord Jesus”; (2) the Philippian jailer “and his entire household rejoiced because they all believed in God.” How are infants able to “believe in the Lord Jesus,” not to mention join in the household joy in the Christian faith?
In regards to the case of 1 Cor. 1:16 and the baptism of the “household of Stephanas,” the issue of infant baptism is a none issue. Consider these two texts, one that is used to support baptizing infants due to household baptism and the other to clarify why they were baptized:
Oh yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas, but I don’t remember baptizing anyone else.” (1 Cor. 1:16 NLT)
You know that Stephanas and his household were the first of the harvest of believers in Greece, and they are spending their lives in service to God’s people.” (1 Cor. 16:15 NLT)
Yes, Stephanas’ household was baptized. After all, they were all converted to the Christian faith and the normative pattern throughout the New Testament was for people to repent, believe in Jesus, and then get baptized.
Moreover, I see good reason not to see a connection between the Old Testament’s circumcision and the New Testament’s baptism. A better corresponding connection to baptism, in the New Testament, is regeneration. In other words, I see discontinuity in the way that the Old Covenant relates to the New Covenant. In the Old Testament, all of Israel was given the sign of circumcision… the faithful and the unfaithful alike. In the New Testament, baptism is administered to people who have professed faith in Christ. By the way, technically, the Old Covenant sign of circumcision is not administered to everyone in Israel; rather, it is applied to males, but I digress.
But while I am fairly convinced that the New Testament theology of and corresponding pattern for baptism is that people were baptized after they came to faith in the risen and ascended Lord, I have to acknowledge that some absolutely top-notch biblical scholars and theologians view the New Testament data, and relationship with the Old Testament’s approach to circumcision, differently. I may be convinced that they are incorrectly reading, interpreting, and applying Scripture, but I can’t say they are ignorant, uninformed, or stupid.
This is where my modification begins to creep in.
My level of certainty on this issue is higher than other issues, but the more that I’ve actually studied Scripture and theology (e.g., an undergrad degree in theology, two graduate degrees, and working toward a PhD), I can’t say that I’m 100% certain on the issue. In fact, though I have the ability to provide a reasonable explanation on many of my views, I’m really only able to say that I am “100% certain” on the fact that (1) Jesus is God, (2) Jesus died on the cross for my sins, (3) Jesus was raised from the dead, (4) Jesus is going to return, and (5) the Holy Spirit is active and empowering the Church for the sake of God’s mission. And maybe “certainty” isn’t the right word. Epistemologists might want me to say “I’m convinced.”
My point is that I can’t say with 100% certainty that baptism should only be reserved for people who have made decisions to follow Jesus. And here’s why…
Challenges to My 100% Certainty for Credobaptism
Earlier I indicated that my view is shaped by Scripture as well as mission, contextualization, and ecumenical concerns. For those of you who jump to the conclusion that I am not reading “the Bible alone,” I gladly admit that I think it’s far more complex than that. In fact, I’d argue that no one just reads the Bible and makes purely objective decisions. They might think they do, but they are wrong and need to take a basic entry level class on hermeneutics. So for the sake of full disclosure, I have found Prima Scriptura a helpful way of explaining my understanding and application of viewing the relationship between Scripture, which I believe is completely infallible, and how I interpret and apply the Bible. In other words, I think the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is a pretty helpful grid (for helpful works addressing the complexity of hermeneutics, see Ken Archer’s A Pentecostal Hermeneutic: Spirit, Scripture, and Community and/or Spawn and Wright’s Spirit and Scripture: Exploring a Pneumatic Hermeneutic).
Informed readers will simply understand this as an acknowledgement of my “hermeneutical spiral” or “circle of biblical and theological understand and application.” Yes, I believe the Bible is Holy Scripture and completely and entirely authoritative for the Church and that all other sources of influences that shape our beliefs and actions must be submitted under that authority. But I’m also honest in that I admit that the Church has other influences (experience, church history, reason, etc.).
So how does mission, contextualization, and ecumenical concerns cause me to modify my previous commitment to traditional Credobaptism to embrace more of a Dual-Baptism approach? Allow me to explain…
(1) Missiological and (2) contextualization issues cause me to pause at being a hardliner in regards to baptism.
I believe it is entirely possible that one could make a good case to baptize infants for the sake of God’s mission. I’m more inclined, in the American context, to see a better approach by way of infant dedications, but I can’t deny that infant baptisms could be helpful for the sake of mission.
American readers need to think beyond North America. In the American context, we have almost no understanding of “Christendom.” We certainly have baggage from being a “Christian nation” or a “country founded upon Christian principles,” but that’s quite different than being a country that is explicitly Christian. When I think of “Christendom,” I think of countries that explicitly state they are “Christian” countries. For example, think of England, which has a “state” church, the Church of England.
So imagine, for the sake of conversation, that you live in the United Kingdom and the state church, Anglicanism, has so influenced the culture/society around you that the simple fact is that Christening is simply a regular part of living. To be a “Christian” means that you participate in the practices of the Church and the Church teaches that Christening children is part of what Able previously articulated as part of the discipleship process. For the sake of God’s mission, I think it is reasonable that some might say, “Hey, I don’t particularly agree that baptizing babies is the best thing to do here, but because I want to create an opportunity with these two parents who have come to me and asked me to be a part of their spiritual journey and they believe that baptizing their baby is the normal and right thing to do, I’m going to do it and take an opportunity to make it clear that salvation isn’t gained by being baptized; it’s experienced by faith in Christ.” And because that person does’t want the person to just turn around and walk out of their office because they say, “No, we don’t baptize babies here,” they invoke a Dual-Baptism perspective.
Furthermore, a serious challenge that strict Credobaptists can’t deny exists is related to the children of Christian parents who are being raised in Christian households. Note Bird’s way of articulating this issue. He writes,
Perhaps the most compelling objection is that it leaves the children of believing parents in a kind of spiritual limbo. On the credobaptist scheme, children have no positive status before God other than being providentially blessed by growing up in a Christian household, where they receive instruction in the Christian faith. Children are pagans at worst and potential Christians at best. However, if we keep thinking in terms of covenant and family, which is how God has always done business with his people, there must be some positive position for children in the church family. It is impossible to regard children as covenantally holy in their family if their entire family is not in fact integrated into the covenant of grace (see 1 Cor 7:14).” (765)
Bird goes on to also state:
A Christian child lives in a converted home, not a pagan one. Even if children in converted “households” are not baptized, their conversion and baptism may be regarded as being done by proxy through their parents. That may sound strange to those accustomed to a free, libertarian, and individualist society, but the households of the ancient world were an extended family unit with a shared identity and a sense of corporate personhood.” (769)
One may not be convinced that infants should be baptized on the basis of this challenge, but at least the challenge needs to be acknowledged. I’m still convinced that the best response to this challenge is the “baby dedication” that many Evangelical churches practice, but I just can’t deny that infant baptisms may be a way to deal with the issue at hand, especially in contexts where baby baptisms are so ingrained in the social and cultural context.
In the same way that the New Testament does not really deal with the challenges that come from a “second generation” Christian faith in regards to baptism, the New Testament does not really articulate the exact and specific methods to be both faithful to Scripture end effective at God’s Mission on the issue of baptism in a post-Christendom world. We have to do our best to read, interpret, and apply Scripture. The relationship and challenges of missiological and contextualization concerns give me reason to hit pause on whether or not one could make a good case for baptizing babies.
In other words, the fact that the Trent Vineyard, the largest church in the United Kingdom, allows for both believer’s and infant baptism is, I think, a good example of being honest about the fact that good arguments can be made on both sides as well as the fact that in certain contexts, especially the U.K., one can hold to a Dual-Baptism approach and be faithful and effective.
(3) Church unity, a hope and concern of ecumenical engagement, causes me to pause at invoking the traditional pejorative hardline approach.
While it might be a tad unfair to suggest that those who hold to a certain baptism perspective are being jerk-faces when they won’t celebrate the Eucharist with those they differ with, I think that is a strong possibility.
Let’s back up and look at someone who lived in 17th century — John Bunyan. Bunyan, the author of the classic Pilgrim’s Progress, was an English Baptist preacher who spent a fair amount of time for his refusal to stop preaching and because 17th century England had little room for religious tolerance. Despite the fact that Bunyan was convinced that baptism should only be administered to people who had made a public profession of faith (he was a Baptist, after all!), he also was convinced that Christian unity, including the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, shouldn’t be prevented over differences on baptism. Many of Bunyan’s contemporaries strongly disagreed with him. In fact, one contemporary actually called Bunyan “a devil.” I sure hope no one considers me a devil for agreeing with Bunyan here! Interestingly, a number of contemporary Baptists agree with Bunyan’s approach to Christian unity (cf. John Piper’s evaluation of Grudem’s updated version of Systematic Theology as well as Grudem’s response to Piper).
In my own thinking, I have several questions that cause me to really be unable to be pejorative hardline advocate of believer’s baptism exclusively:
What if I were to be on staff with someone who, after studying the issue in depth and reading all of the relevant literature, came to a different conclusion than me? Would I be able to continue working alongside them for the cause of the kingdom?
What if someone started attending the congregation that I was serving as a pastor and they held to a different position on baptism than me? Would they be able to become members of the church, or would I prevent them from having fellowship with that community even though they virtually agreed with everything else except on the issue of baptism?
If I really desire church unity, while believing that unity does not mean uniformity, isn’t baptism, which is a secondary issue according to every Evangelical I know, a topic that we can “agree to disagree” on while still remaining in community together?
The Practical Outworking of a Modified Approach to Baptism that Allows for Dual-Baptism
By now you’ll probably agree that, if anything, my perspective is complex and full of nuance. Nuance isn’t very helpful in a world dominated by a commitment to 140 characters (thanks, Twitter!). Well, all I can say is “Welcome to ThinkTheology.org. We believe that thinking matters.”
For me, my level of certainty on the issue, my awareness of good scholarship on both sides, my understanding of missiological and contextualization challenges, and my concern for Christian unity currently lead me to conclude that Dual-Baptism is a legitimate option.
Again, I’m still convinced that baptism is best administered to people who have made a decision to become disciples of Jesus and that a helpful way to include in the process of raising children in a way that is helpful to them becoming followers of Jesus is a baby dedication. In fact, I think Protestant Evangelicals who do infant baptisms are, in my opinion, actually just doing a baby dedication and sprinkling some water too. After all, baptisms in the New Testament appear to be by immersion.
But I have room in my reading of Scripture, my theology, and my praxis to allow for difference.
So I could either be on staff with others who disagreed with my view, both as the lead pastor or as an associate. I would have absolutely no problem with welcoming people into church membership that differed on baptism. And I could envision being in a context or situation where the best course of action would be to baptize a baby.
And maybe that makes me inconsistent…
Hopefully this is more an evidence that I’m wrestling with the issue and admit it’s pretty complex.
Clarification: The views expressed in this post are not meant to represent the views of any church I am or will be affiliated with, the Vineyard movement, or anyone quoted. These are entirely my own.
For the past two weeks I’ve been in the U.K. with my good friend Steve Nicholson. When I first announced to some friends that I’d be heading to England this year, they asked me why. My answer was simple: Steve is a pneumatological Jedi Knight. One would have to be, as the Brits say, daft not to jump at that opportunity! The learning opportunities have been so rewarding!
In addition to having an opportunity to spend time around a great leader like Steve, I was also very interested in getting a sense of Wimber’s influence in the U.K., as much of my academic work has been on Wimber and Vineyard related subjects.
I’m so thankful that I had this opportunity! I’m thankful that Steve was willing to invite me and that some of my friends and family and people in the church I serve were willing to allow me the opportunity! Because so many of you have been praying for me and have been asking me for updates, I figured I could give you a run down on all that I’ve been able to experience. This is just a summary of things we have done, people we have met, and places we have gone.
London, Sweet London
Steve and I arrived in London around 9am in the morning. We intended to spend the day, at least 12 hours, staying awake so that we could get into the flow of being ahead of our local times by six hours. After quickly going through security, we made our way to the train, known as the Tube in London, and headed into London proper. Our first stop? Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and the surrounding governmental buildings.
Big Ben was swell and the governmental buildings beautiful, but Westminster Abbey was amazing. I was able to see the resting place for the bodies of many famous people, including kings, as well as two of my favorites: the missionary David Livingstone and William Wilberforce. The entire abbey is amazing and the sense of history pretty amazing. Many people have been crowned king and queen there and the spiritual heritage of such a place quite overwhelming to take in for someone from the U.S., where “old” is a relative term.
After Westminster Abbey, we made our way up one of the main streets and had lunch at one of the most important establishments in England: the Pub. I had fish and chips, which were amazing, and a stout beer that was beautiful. Tears may have been shed at the sight and taste of that beer.
From there, we made our way to Buckingham Palace so that I could have some tea with the queen but apparently she got her calendar wrong and we had to reschedule. Silly Elizabeth the second! She’s always forgetting her schedule. No worries though… we’ll catch up later.
As we waited to catch a train to Leicester (pronounced “Lester”), Steve and I met for coffee with the hippest most coolest and brilliant Vicar (Anglican pastor), Jon March. Jon did an internship at Steve’s church back in the day, so it was a great chance for them to catch up. After the coffee, we took the train up to Leicester, checked into our hotel, ate dinner, and then crashed into a deep and wonderful sleep.
New Wine: Fingerprints of Wimber
After awaking from hibernation, we enjoyed a nice British breakfast… which was essentially the same thing I eat back home (eggs, bacon, sausage, and hash browns). We then went to spend some time with some great people from New Wine, a group of churches from a variety of denominations (mostly Anglican) committed to renewal, though the group of church leaders included people leading baptist churches, New Frontiers, and a few other independent churches.
In order to summarize what we did over this first weekend, let me back up and tell you a bit about Steve Nicholson. We really should refer to him as the Steve Nicholson because the use of a definite article is only appropriate for a man of reputation and quality, which likely says a lot about the quality of person that his wonderful wife Cindy is. Behind Steve’s back, I’m almost inclined to call him “The Nick” as an ode to “The Molt” (Jurgen Moltmann, my favorite theologian).
Steve has been coming to the U.K. since the mid-80’s, back when Wimber was visiting England and doing conferences on the Holy Spirit, the kingdom, “doing the stuff,” and all things related to renewal. I’ve literally met dozens of leaders who have said things like the following:
“Twenty years ago I heard Steve give a brilliant talk about __________; it changed my life.”
“Fifteen years ago, Steve spoke at our church and our son was healed after we applied his teaching.”
“Our church followed his advice and grew a lot because we did __________.”
It is not an exaggeration to suggest that Steve has had a tremendous impact on leaders and churches here. That’s been a really beautiful thing to see. He and Cindy’s commitment to invest their time, energy, and money into the U.K. has been helpful to so many!
With this in mind, you have to understand that loads of people show up to hear Steve talk. And loads of people have been helped by his advice. And loads of people from New Wine showed up to hear him talk about how churches can become more effective at winning people to the kingdom and how churches can better function at a structural level. He also provided great advice on how to navigate conflicts, how to address cultural challenges, and so much more. I learned a lot on this topic and also had a lot of my own experiences confirmed. It was great.
In addition to speaking to church leaders connected to New Wine, Steve also was one of the main speaker at #Invest, a conference similar to the Vineyard’s Cause Conference. Geared toward younger leaders and future leaders, #Invest was a great gathering for young people to worship, learn, and connect.
As an aside, I should mention that one of the reasons I was interested in visiting the U.K. with Steve was because I was very curious about the influence of John Wimber. If you’ve read much about Wimber’s ministry and how the Vineyard came to the U.K., you’ll know he spent a decent amount of time here in the 80’s. My time with New Wine confirmed that Wimber’s influence and legacy were and are far greater than many of us in the U.S. realize. His fingerprints are all over New Wine. This isn’t to suggest that New Wine doesn’t have distinctions or that there aren’t ecclesiological (and sacramental) points that the Vineyard could certainly learn from (there, I said it!), but New Wine has been marked by Wimber’s kingdom theology and praxis. Virtually all of the books I saw in their book store, written from New Wine authors, contained elements of what I’d call “Wimberisms.”
I loved New Wine. I loved the beautiful buildings that encompassed such a beautiful picture of “ancient future” spirituality. I loved how the incorporated elements of historic liturgy and more contemporary approaches to worship practices. These folks were, by and large, family and their values appeared to be my values.
Some Brits and two Americans walk into a pub…
Thus far into the trip, we had traveled from London to Leicester, Leicester to Daventry, Daventry to Woodford Wells (northeast London), and Woodford Wells to Ealing (west London). In Ealing we were picked up by this Vineyard church planter named Michael Newport. Mike and his lovely wife Flic planted three years ago in the city of Bath, the Bath & Avon Vineyard Church.
The Newports are doing great stuff in Bath. Steve and I spent a few days with them and their leaders, also managing to drink a lot of coffee and eat some great food at the pub we stayed at. Truth be told, I also drank a couple of good dark beers too. The Bath Vineyard has evidently grown rather quickly (300+ in only 3 years), so they are facing a lot of the fun challenges with that! I’m certain they will do great and hope to keep a good relationship with them. But they have a great team there (shouts to James and Cat and everyone else!).
From Bath, we headed to Bury St. Edmunds to hang with the West Suffolk Vineyard Church, planted by Maggie and Chris Parsons and now led by Louise and Mark Williams. Our time with the church leaders included Steve and I talking about “Why Lead?” and then having a full day with the West Suffolk Vineyard leaders as well as a bunch of other Vineyard leaders. That was possibly one of my favorite parts of the trip because Steve and I got to talk about a gazillion different subjects, including a really fun discussion about theology. I was able to mildly nerd out and Steve proved he is quite the capable Jedi Knight theologian (just ask him about Israel some time!!!). In addition to spending time with all of these great Vineyard folks, we stayed at the associate pastors’ wonderful house. Phil & Debbie Wilcox were amazing. Great hosts, great food, great fellowship. I will miss them dearly and look forward to seeing them again!
I had the pleasure of speaking at the West Suffolk’s UTX (students) too. The kids didn’t kill me and I got some nibbles (snacks), so all went well. Jack, the youth leader, is awesome too. I wish I could have spent more time connecting with him!
“Just leave me in Cambridge…”
Steve and I were then able to head into Cambridge, where we met with Lauren Fern. Lauren is planting an amazing Vineyard church in the beautiful city of Cambridge. She interned at Steve’s church here in the States and will do a great job. After we all drank an enormous amount of coffee, we walked into town to meet up with the Parsons, who after turning over the West Suffolk church to the Williams, work on the Vineyard UK national team. We ate a great meal and then I had my mind blown away.
Two words: King’s College.
As we were walking around Cambridge, which is one of the most amazing cities I’ve ever been to, Steve asked me why I was taking pictures of all of the buildings. I said, “Well… these buildings are incredible!” His reply was priceless: “That’s a waste. Wait until you see King’s College.”
He was right. King’s College almost brought tears to my eyes. The entire city of Cambridge is amazing, but King’s College was wowzers. Mind blowing. It beckoned me to enter and do a PhD and never leave. I had to fight strong powers, no doubt.
Before I jumped on my next train, Chris brought me to a secret antique book store and I almost bought a bible printed in 1550… and held a copy of Augustine’s commentaries on the Psalms that was from the late 1300’s. Again, I had to fight strong powers. But the thought of telling my wife that I had spent around $500+ on another book scared me away from it.
I regret that now. I should have bought it. Ha ha!
Cambridge, I will be back to visit you.
Vale of Aylesbury Vineyard
If your church has the words “vale” and “Aylesbury” in it, you are one of the coolest people in the world. Enter two of the coolest people in the world: Lynn and Steve Burnhope, pastors of the Vale of Aylesbury Vineyard Church. I’ve known Steve for a number of years now, as we’ve both spent time at the Society of Vineyard Scholars’ annual meetings together and have had fun talking about Scripture and theology on a number of occasions. Truth be told, I really, really, really like Steve. And last year I had the pleasure of meeting his wife Lynn. Meeting Lynn basically confirmed to me that Steve is a genius because, well, he talked her into marrying him. That’s proof he is a genius level thinker. Lynn, by the way, is a brilliant theologian in her own right!
Steve took a huge risk and asked me to preach at his great church, so I spoke on “The Mission of the Spirit,” one of my favorite topics (that link will go to the video, where you’ll see me stomp and holler). I was totally and completely blown away by what I experienced at the Aylesbury Vineyard. Here’s what stood out:
(1) Steve and Lynn aren’t just great theologians, they are great pastors! All that I saw was evidence that they are doing an excellent job there! I was so honored to learn from them!
(2) Their church is extremely welcoming and sensitive to people. Everything was done with intentionality and their culture of “welcome” was powerful.
(3) They are an extremely multi-ethnic congregation! This was surprising to me because I just picture a church that has the words “vale” and “Aylesbury” as being “white British,” but I was totally and completely wrong. This is one of the most multi-ethnic Vineyard churches I’ve seen. It was beautiful.
(4) The Holy Spirit is actively engaging the hearts and minds of people. The response to our “ministry time” was really great. I love watching the Spirit working in people’s lives!
Following the Sunday worship gathering, we ate some incredible food at an Italian restaurant and then headed back to the Burnhope’s beautiful home… were we drank some more coffee and talked about theology (surprise, surprise).
That evening their pastoral team gathered and we talked about some great stuff for their church and then they prayed for me. The prayer was so great as I received a number of prophetic words, including one that was especially relevant to my life. I was very thankful for their prayers! The people I met from the Aylesbury Vineyard were great… I can’t wait to see them again in the future!
The next morning we woke up, went into town for a few hours, and then jumped in the car to head to Nottingham’s Trent Vineyard.
The Vineyard UK National Leader’s Conference
When I arrived at Trent, I was brought to the “speaker’s lounge” where Steve was hanging out before dinner. This was especially memorable because there was (1) a huge bowl of ice and (2) an unlimited number of Coke’s. #GameOn (I was really craving a Coke with ice).
I met a few cool people, including the Mark Crosby, and enjoyed about thirty minutes to relax on a couch. By this time in the trip, Steve and I were starting to drag a little bit. And I was beginning to see visions of my wife and kids every time I closed my eyes… which made me want to keep my eyes shut.
In walked the Wrights, the National Directors of the UK Vineyards. Guess what? They are normal human beings, totally not pretentious, and very friendly. Since Steve is a legend in the UK, we had dinner with the Wrights, the Mumfords, Andy Smith (such a cool guy), and bunch of other speakers for the conference. I don’t know… I was pretty focused on the chicken… and unlimited glasses of Coke with ice.
Everyone was friendly, normal, humble, and everything you’d want to experience around Vineyard leaders. It just confirmed to me that I’m in the right movement.
After dinner, we went into the opening session and had awesome seats. Being friends with the Steve Nicholson has some pretty huge benefits: unlimited glasses of Coke with ice, great food, great people, and seats close enough to feel the air from the kick drum.
Andy Smith’s talk (here) was awesome (no surprise). I really like Andy. I had the pleasure of hanging with him at Jay Pathak’s house last November and I decided then and there that those two dudes are a huge blessing to the Vineyard. They have what I call a “prophetic edge” about all that they say and do and being around them makes me desire more of the kingdom. Those are the kind of people you want to be around, right?
Anyway, I digress.
The next day was filled with more great music, great talks, great discussions, and so much more. My heart and brain are both very, very full.
Reflecting leads me to gratitude…
There are sooooooo many things that I learned on this trip. And I experienced God’s presence in many moments. I have so much to be thankful for.
First, I’m thankful that Steve invited me. When I asked my wife what she thought about whether or not I should go, mostly because we have five kids(!), she said, “That sounds like a great opportunity!” It sure was. What a privilege to travel with such an amazing leader. I’m sure Steve found many of my non-stop questions silly, but he literally answered every single one of them and I feel like I’m a billion times smarter about church stuff now, be it church planting, church growth, leadership, or preaching. Thanks, Steve, for taking me with you! It was so fun traveling with you and teaching with you was really fun too!
Second, I’m thankful I met so many great people over there! Steve told me he wanted me to connect with other younger leaders, and I can say “mission accomplished!” Whether they are New Wine or Vineyard, I’ve got some great friendships going! I can’t wait to go back!
Third, I had the honor and pleasure of praying for a ton of people and seeing God do some great things! We saw people encouraged, challenged, freed from oppression, directed, empowered, and so much more!
Well I’m exhausted. I have one more flight from Chicago to Minneapolis and then a two hour drive until I see my incredible wife and our five amazing children. I’m going to give them a billion hugs and kisses and then, tomorrow, we’re going to eat some of the sweets I purchased for them. And, according to my wife, I’ll probably sleep all day.
I don’t know. I think I’ll probably wake up pretty early because not only is my heart currently on “UK time,” my body is too!
You can check out some pictures here.
This past Sunday I asked the congregation what are some of the central beliefs of the Church… the non-negotiables, so to speak. I was absolutely delighted to hear one of my friends say, “the Trinity!” Yes! Yes, yes, and yes! As a committed advocate of trinitarian theology, I was quite happy. And for a moment, I felt quite successful as a pastor.
The Trinity is certainly a complex subject. While there are many texts which, in my mind, indicate that the doctrine is essential for the Christian faith, I’m also quick to acknowledge that there is a level of mystery involved in understanding God that I want to talk about it with a lot of humility. And while I’ve read a lot of books about the Trinity, I must say that some of them are either excellent (e.g., Fred Sanders’ The Deep Things of God or Michael Reeves’ Delighting in the Trinity) and others pretty frustrating. Some are even really confusing.
Yet rarely do I read a book on the Trinity and find myself so hungry to read more because of how fascinating it is! At least not until Rodrick K. Durst’s Reordering the Trinity: Six Movements of God in the New Testament. Exegetically responsible. Theologically informed. And missionally creative.
Durst’s central claim is that the way in which the NT orders the Trinity has theological reason. The traditional ordering, “Father, Son, and Spirit,” is not the only way that the New Testament orders the Trinity. Durst believes there is reason behind this.
After introducing the “Trinitarian matrix,” which includes issues related to the economic and social trinitarian theological issues, the author looks at several important “key questions” before diving into my favorite parts of the book:
- The Sending Triad: Father-Son-Spirit as the Missional Order.
- The Saving Triad: Son-Spirit-Father as the Regenerative Order.
- The Indwelling Triad: Son-Father-Spirit as the Christological Witness Order.
- The Standing Triad: Spirit-Father-Son as the Sanctifying Order.
- The Shaping Triad: Father-Spirit-Son as the Spiritual Formation Order.
- The Uniting Triad: Spirit-Son-Father as the Ecclesial Order.
Yes… if you are even remotely interested in the Trinity than you will want to read this book! Finally, in addition to a couple appendixes (five, to be exact), Durst ends with how these concepts are applicable in the life of followers of Jesus in “everyday worship, life, and ministry.” You won’t agree with all of Durst’s arguments and you’ll likely have a lot of questions, but you won’t be disappointed. I highly recommend picking up a copy!
“Christians don’t need to repent,” said the young man. “Jesus died for our sins… past, present, and future,” he continued, “so you don’t need to spend all of your time asking him for forgiveness. He has already forgiven you!” According to this young man, all the Church needed to do was lean into its identity as righteous daughters and sons of God!
Part of me agrees with some of the points being made by those who make these types of statements. It is absolutely appropriate to place emphasis on the Christian’s ontology, namely our union with Christ. Our identity as God’s children is rooted in our connection to Jesus and our reception of the soteriological benefits related to the cross, both those experienced in the immediate and those promised on the eschatological end.
But there are some serious issues with the suggestion that (1) Christians don’t need to repent and (2) the Holy Spirit doesn’t convict Christians. Yes, you read that correctly… advocates of the “Christians do not need to repent” concept also suggest that the Holy Spirit does not convict Christians; rather, the Spirit is said to convict the world alone.
Again, there are serious problems with these two ideas, both on a biblical-theological level as well as on a practical level. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why these ideas are short-sighted in the long run and, quite frankly, unhelpful for Jesus followers…
These views fundamentally undermine explicit statements from the Bible.
The New Testament, originally written in Greek, uses the word metanoia, which is translated as “repentance” in a number of verses that are contextually related to Christians. For example:
“Look how far you have fallen! Turn back (metanoeo) to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches.” (Rev. 2:5 NLT)
“Repent (metanoeo) of your sin, or I will come to you suddenly and fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” (Rev. 2:16 NLT)
“Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent (metanoeo) and turn to me again. If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief.” (Rev. 3:3 NLT)
“I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn (metanoeo) from your indifference.” (Rev. 3:13 NLT)
As the context of these texts reveals,these texts are written to Christians. In fact, even if you make the mistake of suggesting that Jesus’ words to Sardis (Rev. 3:1-6) or Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22) aren’t relevant because Jesus doesn’t commend those two churches, you still have to deal with Jesus’ words to Ephesus and Pergamum, two churches that Jesus commended.
And this says nothing about the relevance of Romans 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9, which I believe are written in a way that all early Christian readers would have understood as teaching them to be repentant. Scripture indicates that Christians can and should repent when their lives are not reflecting the qualities and characteristics of the kingdom. This is not a debatable matter of Revelation is allowed to speak.
These perspectives remove the historic / orthodox appropriation and application of the “Lord’s Prayer.”
Quite simply, if one makes the arguments that suggest the Church need not involve itself with repentance, the natural consequence is to remove the Lord’s Prayer from the liturgy of the Church. Either you can join the historic Church and petition of the Lord to “forgive us our sins” (Matt. 6:12) or not. Either you can obey the Apostle James’ command (imperative mood) to “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other” (James 5:16) or not.
And here is the catch. This false teaching is not new to the Church. It has found advocacy in, for example, aspects of Marcionism, the Antinomianism controversies, and within the Latter Rain movement. Each of these theological errors were rejected by historic Christianity. Therefore, those who advocate an approach that removes “repentance” from the life of the Church, which is so clearly at odds with the Great Tradition, must provide some serious exegesis in order to convince Christians to abandon such a firmly held belief.
These ideas lack clarity and comprehensiveness on the work of the Spirit.
When someone rejects the idea that the Holy Spirit convicts Christians, they really need to explain what they mean by “convict.” If they are saying the Holy Spirit doesn’t condemn people or shame people or keep a record of people’s sins, I am in agreement! Yet if they are saying that the Holy Spirit does not reveal to Christians an awareness of sin and a desire to repent and (re)orient toward Jesus in a way that surrenders more and more of one’s life to the Lord, we have a serious problem.
When someone suggests that nowhere in Scripture is the Spirit said to convict Christians, we need to hit the “pause” button and ask some important questions. What texts indicate that “conviction” is only for unbelievers? And how is one defining “conviction” within this framework? Might there be other words that shape how we understand the Spirit’s “convicting” work?
A comprehensive pneumatology would seem to find the suggestion that the Spirit does not convict Christians to be highly questionable. Such a view, I think, posits a narrow view of repentance, not to mention that a logical consequence is a “low-pneumatology.” While those who make this argument would pride themselves on being “people of the Spirit,” it is troubling that their pneumatology essentially boils down to “conversion” and “empowerment,” overlooking that numerous other pneumatic qualities and activities.
Moreover, when the Apostle Paul writes, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to rebuke Christians, are we to understand that the Holy Spirit is not at work bringing conviction? Writing to Timothy, the apostolic representative in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul said, “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear” (1 Tim. 5:20 ESV). Did you catch that? Paul says that the public rebuke of Christians may function to cause other Christians to be afraid! This isn’t to say that some take “rebuking” to an unhealthy extreme or that all situations require a public “rebuke.” But one can’t deny that “apostolic Christianity” contained an emphasis and practice of the “rebuke” (cf. 2 Tim. 4:2; Titus 1:9, 13; 2:13, 15). Is it possible that the Spirit’s conviction of Christians would be for the same intended purpose of apostolic rebukes? I think so.
In my opinion, this issue is a central issue that, at it’s core, has dramatic effects on the nature of the gospel and the nature of the Church. We need, if anything, to understand that our identity in Christ is rooted in our “now and not yet” understanding of the process of salvation. These concepts need not oppose each other! We can, after all, have a both/and approach.
What do you think?