Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Short Meditation on the Holy Spirit, Authority, and Infallibility

I just came across this beautifully-written essay on the relationship between authority and infallibility in the Church. The essay is by Catholic-convert Aimee Cooper and can be found at her blog Historical Christian.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

I Can Only Imagine - The Eucharist

Jesus, hidden under the appearance of bread and wine, we worship you!

JESUS is the REASON! He is the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE! We worship you, oh Lord!

John Piper on Abortion and Obama

Despite my differences with John Piper regarding baptism, we see eye to eye regarding the horror of abortion in this country. The following clip from a recent sermon is quite powerful and needs to be taken to heart by all Christians:

Friday, May 29, 2009

We Lift Our Hearts up to the Lord

Consider with me the following paragraphs from Saint Justin Martyr's (100-165) First Apology:

Chapter 65. Administration of the sacraments

But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to γένοιτο [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.

Chapter 66. Of the Eucharist

And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, "This do in remembrance of Me, Luke 22:19 this is My body;" and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, "This is My blood;" and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.

Chapter 67. Weekly worship of the Christians

And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.


Any one who has been to a symphony concert knows the impulse that occurs when the entire audience stands for the applause. If you are in the audience, you want to stand with them. The urge is almost irresistible, because we sense that in some way, we are part of a single social unit at that moment--a social community that is expressing through posture its pleasure at the performance.

Along these lines, I have been thinking about an account of the Mass offered by Justin Martyr, which describes how after the readings and homily, the congregation stood to offer the prayers of their eucharistic sacrifice. It occurs to me that, today, almost two thousand years later, we as a Church still stand as we "lift our hearts to the Lord" at the beginning of the liturgy of the Eucharist. Our worship is, in fact, just as Catholic as our beliefs.

If we took a bird's-eye view of history, looking along the line of history synchronistically as if all times were present in a single moment, then we can imagine millions and millions of Christians, of all different times, languages, and cultures, standing at the exact same point in the Mass, as if they are celebrating one great, universal, Catholic liturgy--one miraculous "making present" of Jesus's once-for-all sacrificial offering that is constantly being presented before the father on the alter before the throne in heaven (see Rev. 5:6 and 8:3). The urge to stand with such a large community of believers and faithful witness is--one would think--quite strong indeed.

Yet, if we take a closer synchronisitic look at the worship of all Christians, we might notice a strange thing: as of late, there seem to be pockets of Christians that do not stand when the rest of us do. Yes, they are a minority, but they seem strangely resistant to joining in the common gesture associated with the beginning of the Eucharistic liturgy. (Some of them do not even have a Eucharistic liturgy.)

Why is this?

Who are these Christians that seem so disconnected in their worship from all the rest?

Entering back into the flow of time, we realize that the Protestant reformers started a revolution that not only did away with many truths that had been passed down from the apostles, but with the structure of Catholic worship that was passed down through the generations as well.

But isn't the Bible clear?

Did not the first Christians meet every Lord's Day (Sunday) for the readings (the apostle's teachings that were transmitted by word of mouth and by letter as in 2 Thess. 2:15), prayers, and the breaking of the bread? Did not they celebrate the Lord's Supper every time they met? Weren't these first Christians truly "Bible-Christians," since they lived while the Bible was being written and learned their faith and worship from the apostles themselves? Does Justin's description of the worship of the first Christians give us a better idea of what Luke is describing in Acts 2:42-45? Is Acts 2:42-45 somehow no longer a relevant model for Christian worship?

So, we ask, why do these small pockets of later Christians so rarely celebrate the Lord's Supper? Why do they not join and stand together with Christians throughout history in the great liturgy of God's people, the Mass?

And, what will it take for Christians today to "lift our hearts up to the lord" in one common act of worship and belief? May the Lord grant that this day come quickly!

We as Catholics invite our separated brothers and sisters in the Lord to accept all the gifts he left with his church, and then to join us at the banquet of the Lamb. Let us together lift our hearts to the Lord!

Great New Website for Fallen-away Catholics and Non-Catholics

Check out today!

Especially moving is the "Epic" video.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for the gift of the Catholic Church!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Father Thomas Rosica on the Holy Spirit

Father Thomas Rosica, CSB offers a beautiful summary of the many glorious manifestations of the Spirit's work in salvation history as it relates to Christ's kingdom.

Toward the end of the article, he quotes Pope Benedict XVI's address at the 2008 World Youth Day's Saturday night prayer vigil, part of which focused on the activity of the Holy Spirit in the institution of the Catholic Church:

One of the finest teachings on the Holy Spirit in recent times took place last July during the great vigil at World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, Australia. The Saturday evening prayer vigil at the Randwick Racecourse on July 19 began in darkness, gradually illuminated by torches borne by dancers on the podium, representing the opening to the Holy Spirit.

"Tonight we focus our attention on how to become witnesses," Benedict XVI told the young people in his address. "You are already well aware that our Christian witness is offered to a world which in many ways is fragile. The unity of God's creation is weakened by wounds that run particularly deep when social relations break apart, or when the human spirit is all but crushed through the exploitation and abuse of persons. Indeed, society today is being fragmented by a way of thinking that is inherently shortsighted, because it disregards the full horizon of truth, the truth about God and about us. By its nature, relativism fails to see the whole picture. It ignores the very principles which enable us to live and flourish in unity, order and harmony".

Yet, the Pope went on, "such attempts to construct unity in fact undermine it. To separate the Holy Spirit from Christ present in the Church's institutional structure would compromise the unity of the Christian community, which is precisely the Spirit's gift! [...] Unfortunately the temptation to 'go it alone' persists. Some today portray their local community as somehow separate from the so-called institutional Church, by speaking of the former as flexible and open to the Spirit and the latter as rigid and devoid of the Spirit."

"Let us invoke the Holy Spirit: He is the artisan of God's works," the Pope concluded. "Let His gifts shape you! Just as the Church travels the same journey with all humanity, so too you are called to exercise the Spirit's gifts amidst the ups and downs of your daily life. Let your faith mature through your studies, work, sport, music and art. Let it be sustained by prayer and nurtured by the Sacraments. [...] In the end, life is not about accumulation. It is much more than success. To be truly alive is to be transformed from within, open to the energy of God's love. In accepting the power of the Holy Spirit you too can transform your families, communities and nations. Set free the gifts! Let wisdom, courage, awe and reverence be the marks of greatness!"

Come Holy Spirit!

We read in the gospels "the one whom the Father will send will teach us everything and remind us of all that Jesus has said to us" [John 14:26]. This act of reminding and recalling is stated very clearly in the Catechism of The Catholic Church, [No. 1099] "The Holy Spirit is the Church's living memory." On this great feast and birth of the Church, let us pray for the gift of memory, and for the courage to move from the empowering mystery of the Upper Room to the reality of daily life.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful
And kindle in us the fire of your Love!

Lord, send us your Spirit,
And renew the face of the earth...
The face of our Church, the face of our communities,
Our own faces, our own hearts. Amen.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Response to John Piper Bethlehem Baptist Sermon, Part 2

This is the second of four postings (five really) discussing four sermons on baptism by the Baptist preacher John Piper. The first posting may be read here.

Bible verses are in red, Piper's comments in blue, and mine are in plain font.


Colossians 2:8-15

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. 9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; 11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.

Note the following summary of textual points made by Paul:

1. In Him you have been made complete
2. In Him you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands=the circumcision of Christ
3. Having been buried with Him in BAPTISM
4. [Also] “in which” [=in BAPTISM] you were raised up with Him
5. …through faith…
6. …by the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
7. Still in the context of the work God does at baptism, before which we were dead in our transgressions and spiritually “uncircumcised”: “He made you alive”
8. …having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certicate of our debt
SINS FORGIVEN IN BAPTISM, WHICH MEANS GRACE MUST BE PRESENT (contrary to what Baptists believe…that no grace is transferred through the “ordinance”)
9. [Through baptism] our sins have been nailed to the cross.


Does Christian Baptism Parallel Old Testament Circumcision?

This is the second in a four-part series on Christian baptism. Let me tell you a bit about how I am choosing the texts to preach from. I discovered in my seminary and graduate school days that my old ways of defending believer's baptism were not compelling.


Notice that after reading God’s Word, he diverts our attention away from what the verses just said. While he is allowed to do this (as the pastor, it is his perogative what he says and when), it should be acknowledged that the impact of what the verses themselves just said will be softened, and their memory will be diminished the more time that goes by until he comments on them.

I wonder why his old ways of defending his understanding of baptism were not compelling? Also, what does he mean by “compelling”? Convincing? Or, does he think of the teaching on believer’s baptism to be compelling in some authoritative sense? If speaking about authority, we must remember that the only thing (according to Protestant theology) that is truly compelling is the Bible alone. But that seems to be the problem, doesn’t it? What does the Bible teach about baptism? The problem is really Piper’s problem, since he strangely feels compelled to teach something about baptism that is opposite from what all the bible passages about baptism say the sacrament is (and does). Piper believes that baptism does not save. Piper believes that no grace is conferred during baptism. Piper believes that Christ does not work on the soul during baptism. Piper believes that no sins are forgiven during baptism. Unfortunately, all of these beliefs are contradicted by scripture. Thus, Piper needs to separate in time as much as possible his reading of scripture with his presentation of his beliefs.

I used to spend time pointing out that all the baptisms described in the New Testament are baptisms of believers…

Yes, this is true. But there is a subtle privileging here of baptisms that occurred in the first decades of Christianity that were described in the Bible over those that occurred that were not described. When Acts says that thousands of people were baptized, and that the promise was to “you and your children,” on what premise do we imagine this scene to be without children? If you went into a crowded city square in any metropolitan area and suddenly rounded up the closest three thousand people, wouldn’t that include a large number of people below the age of reason? And if Peter just said the promise is for you and your children, wouldn’t it be reasonable to imagine that entire families came forward to be baptized? Elsewhere in scripture, we see entire families (even along with the servants) being baptized. Naturally, it never says that there were children, but it does not say that there were not. Basically, the bible is silent on infant baptism (just like it is silent on the Trinity, Sunday worship, and a whole host of other things that Protestants accept), but while Protestant apologists often accuse Catholics of building an argument from silence (though the Catholic argument is far more comprehensive than this), these same Protestants build an argument from silence when they say that all we see is adult baptisms. Hidden in this message is that WE DO NOT SEE INFANT BAPTISMS. See? They are implicitly building an argument from silence. Sorry, but what is good for the goose…

…and that all the commands to be baptized are given to believers.

Yes, a verbal command presupposes that the person receiving it has reached the age of reason. But what is the content of belief that the believers had accepted? That content included the regenerative nature of baptism. Why does Piper insist on pitting belief against the sacraments, when the sacraments require belief? If a person was an unbeliever, then it would have been wrong for them to receive baptism. But if a person was a believer, it would have been wrong for them to refuse baptism, since baptism is the sacrament by which Christ regenerates their soul. It is if the new believers were saying: Christ, I accept you, but I do not want you to perform a circumcision done without hands on my soul.

Also, I would completely agree with Piper that if a person is beyond the age of reason, that person must believe and accept Christ as Lord and Savior before they can be baptized, which is what the Catholic Church insists these people do (far more seriously, in fact, than most Protestant churches do). But this does not mean that Christ can not act on the soul of a person before they have reached the age of reason. After all, did not the spirit make John the Baptist leap in his mother’s womb? And if a person must be born again to enter heaven, then why would Christ withhold the sacrament of regeneration from infants? Do we presume that God automatically saves infants who have not been born again? If so, where does it say so in the Bible? Did not through one man all die (Romans 6)? Does not “all” include infants?

Remember, we are not saved by faith. We are saved 100% by God’s grace, and if God’s grace is truly a free gift, then why can’t God give it to infants? (It is actually the Protestants who say that at least one “work” must occur for salvation: confessing Christ as Lord. Only infant baptism demonstrates salvation without any “work” being accomplished—the baby can do nothing but poop!) One thing that faith does is open the soul so that God’s grace can enter, but infants don’t have the impediments to grace that adults have, and in his infinite mercy, God accepts the faith of the family as grounds to accept these infants into the spiritual family of God. “Let the children come to me…”

I used to point out that infant baptism is simply not mentioned in the Bible and that it is questionable to build a crucial church practice on a theological inference, without explicit Biblical teaching when all the examples go in the opposite direction.

All the “described” examples are of adults. But do you see how Piper has abstracted from a historical fact a conceptual direction. He is now pointing (“directing”) the mind of his listeners away from infant baptism. Unfortunately, he is missing an important premise: that the fact that the descriptions found in scripture of adult baptisms NECESSARILY points away from the possibility of infant baptism. This unspoken premise is not a scriptural one. In fact, the Bible hints that the opposite may be true…that baptism may be applied to “you and your family.”

One can never underestimate the power of rhetoric to convince a congregation. But what really should be convincing us is not the power of Piper’s rhetoric but the truth that has been authoritatively passed down to us through Scripture and Tradition as taught by the Magisterium.

Also, there is another critical premise in Piper’s argument: Sola Scriptura. Thinking in the mode of the Bible Alone, one can only conceive of the church as being based on the Bible. Thus, the Bible would be the pillar of truth, the church, and all else. (But hold on! Doesn’t 1 Tim. 3:15 call the church the pillar of truth?? How could that be? Which church is the pillar of truth, when they all contradict one another?)

The historical fact is that the true church was baptizing infants centuries before the bible was even canonized. The church didn’t build her practice on “theological inference,” but rather on the truth she received from Jesus and the apostles—a truth that countless early martyrs gave their lives to faithfully pass on, but a truth which has not won the minds and hearts of countless Protestants two thousand years later. I know these Protestants love the Lord, but they don’t know and love His Church as well as they ought (though usually through no fault of their own).

By the way: STILL WAITING…

But I discovered that those who baptize infants ("paedobaptists") were not swayed by these observations, because they pointed out that, of course, we only see believer's baptism in the New Testament since we are dealing in all these settings with first generation evangelism, not with second generation child-rearing. Everybody agrees that the only adults that should be baptized are believing adults. The issue is, what happens when these baptized Christian adults have children?

Good question. (By the way, this moment represents Piper’s most successful moment at representing the position of the “other side.”)

This question was relevant not just to later times when believers had children, but also to the children that were present when the believers themselves first believed.

And here is a meta-question: why all this talk about infant baptism. I thought we were going to be hearing about what Colossians says about baptism.

And another question: Piper’s entire argument is still squarely premised on Sola Scriptura, as if the only arguments of the “paedobaptists” even worth mentioning are those that have some tangential relationship to what we see in the Bible. I doubt that Piper will mention the strongest argument made by the paedobaptists: that Christians have been baptizing infants from the very beginning at the direction of the apostles themselves.

Piper’s emphasis on infant baptism when Colossians didn’t say anything about infant baptism (it DOES, however, support the notion of baptismal regeneration) reflects a strategy that I see all the time in Protestant apologists: they have a hard time keeping focused. Whenever the opposing side (or in this case, the opposing verses) begin to get the upper hand, they switch subjects. The underlying rhetoric is this: of course Paul can not mean what he seems to be saying (that we are spiritually circumcised in baptism), because that meaning is part of a belief system whose adherents promote infant baptism, and we ALL know that THAT is wrong! Ergo, Paul can not be agreeing with what those darn “paedobaptists” believe!!

But notice, he has not actually looked at all yet at what Paul is saying. So far, we have heard ZERO exegesis of Colossians 2:8-15.


So they pointed out that all my statistics are irrelevant and the question boils down to one of theological inference. Specifically, does Christian baptism parallel Old Testament circumcision as the sign of those who join the covenant people of God, and if so, should not the children of Christians receive baptism the way the sons of Israel received circumcision?

Here, Piper conflates two different lines of argument for infant baptism, one of which is weaker, and the other of which is stronger.

The argument from silence is obviously the weaker argument. Catholics will argue that since the NT says nothing explicit and specific about infant baptism, that Protestants have no solid ground to absolutely forbid it. Thus, both Catholics and Protestants have to build arguments from silence inference.

But the arguments of inference are separate from arguments from silence. In framing the Catholics’ arguments from inference in terms of an argument from silence, Piper makes it seem like ALL the Catholic arguments are just smoke screens based on no biblical evidence at all.

Actually, both Catholic and Protestants have to argue from biblical evidence not directly related to infant baptism in order to draw conclusions about infant baptism. It is not fair, honest, or forthcoming that Piper does not share this with his congregation.

Furthermore, in setting up his approach to what Paul says in this way, he is biasing his listeners in advance against what Paul is saying, as if any attempt to actually accept the plain meaning of Paul’s words is actually a covert attempt to build an argument from inference. Notice that he actually takes the very words that Paul says and turns them into a question, adding concepts like “parallel,” and tying in the problem of infant baptism. Really, the relationship of baptism to circumcision can be considered separately from whether or not infants are the proper subjects of baptism. Colossians doesn’t discuss infant baptism, so why are you folding it into the mix?

Let me try to illustrate my point in slightly different terms:

Imagine seeing a poster on a university campus whose title poses the following question: “Is Jesus Christ God?”

This question could be answered by different speakers in different ways, but there is only one correct answer. A true Christian would rightly begin his or her talk by boldly proclaiming “Yes!—and here is how we know.” A non-Christian, however, might take a different approach, slowly introducing evidence that builds up to the conclusion: “No, Jesus could not be God.” Thus, we have to be careful in turning into a question something that has already been stated definitely and with authority.

Similarly, Paul authoritatively states that we were “circumcised without hands” when we were “buried with him in baptism.” Why turn this into a question like Piper does? Read Piper’s question once again: “Specifically, does Christian baptism parallel Old Testament circumcision as the sign of those who join the covenant people of God, and if so, should not the children of Christians receive baptism the way the sons of Israel received circumcision?” If Piper is going to agree with Paul (though for some reason, Piper keeps twisting Paul’s language, if only slightly), he basically needs to offer a resounding “Yes!—and here is why.” But this is not what I see in Piper’s rhetoric. Rather, he seems to be sowing confusion about the meaning of Paul’s words, in part by changing subjects to something Paul doesn’t directly address, and in part by turning Paul’s statement into a question that points to a negative rather than positive answer.

I think the smoke screen lies in all of this talk about theological inference. Sorry, Piper. I’m not trying to infer anything. I just want to know what Paul is saying.


For example, the Heidelberg Catechism was written in 1562 as an expression of the Reformed faith. It is said by some to have the intimacy of Martin Luther and the charity of Philip Melanchthon and the fire of John Calvin : three great Reformers in the 16th century. At the end of the section on baptism, question #74 asks, "Are infants also to be baptized?" The answer goes like this:

Yes; for since they, as well as their parents, belong to the covenant and people of God, and both redemption from sin and the Holy Ghost, who works faith, are through the blood of Christ promised to them no less than to their parents, they are also by Baptism, as a sign of the covenant, to be ingrafted into the Christian Church, and distinguished from the children of unbelievers, as was done in the Old testament by Circumcision, in place of which in the New Testament Baptism is appointed.

Now this has been the standard understanding of baptism among Presbyterians and Congregationalists and Methodists and many others for hundreds of years. Lutherans and Catholics defend the practice of infant baptism differently, putting more emphasis than these other churches have on the actual regenerating effect of the act.

This is a very interesting admission for Piper to make. After all, shouldn’t it alarm Baptists that even most Protestants accept infant baptism as being biblical? Shouldn’t it alarm Baptists that most of the historical creeds, both Protestant and Catholic agree about infant baptism?

Notice that the one bit of historical perspective that Piper leaves out is why the Baptists broke from this tradition. A reading of the history of the Baptists (really, their Anabaptist forebearers) shows that the doctrine is the result of having to somehow distinguish themselves from all of those other Protestant “reformers” who really didn’t go far enough. This need for compounding “reform” is a significant motivator for the continuing splintering that we witness in Christianity to this day.


Are New Truths Revealed in the New Covenant?

So one of the most crucial questions you must face as you ponder the New Testament command to be baptized is whether you think this parallel with circumcision settles the matter.

Settles the matter? No single argument or proof text ever settles the matter.

The epistemological model that Catholic hermeneutics is based on is one in which multiple lines of evidence all converge on a single truth. A Catholic systematic theology is what results from the intertextual reading of all the relevant evidence and of all the lines of argument as they come together around certain truths.

The model implied by Piper’s statement, however, makes it seem as if the Catholic argument is based on a single line of evidence, and that the issue thus hangs on whether or not one accepts that single line.

No, Catholic argumentation is not like a single tight-rope, whereby if it snaps, the argument falls to a sudden death. Rather, it is like a strong skein or braided rope of multiple lines of evidence. Even if one denies one single line of evidence or argument, there are dozens of other lines of evidence that hold strong. Those lines of evidence include all the biblical evidence on the subject, all the writings of the early church which unanimously accept the regenerative quality of baptism, and the historical continuity and solid manner in which these teachings have been maintained in history by the Magesterium.

Actually, it is Protestant argumentation that tends to treat doctrines like bullet points, and tends to base arguments on divergent proof-texts. Distinctly Protestant theology offers no similar model of converging evidence, since Protestant theology was primarily conceived as being anti-Catholic in its argumentation. Thus, Protestant apologists are constantly working against the converging lines that all point to Catholic truth.

Thus, the Protestant apologist must be careful not to argue against too many lines at once, or else his listener might suddenly realize how many lines actually converge on the Catholic viewpoint. That is why you constantly see Protestant apologists not acknowledging all the evidence that Catholics offer, but rather they make the Catholic position out to be something that is arrived at by a single argument.

The careful reader will see, however, that the “single argument” being described is quite different from the “single argument” that was used in last week’s sermon. But who remembers last week’s sermon, anyway? ☺

That is, is it the will of God revealed in the New Testament that Baptism and circumcision correspond so closely that what circumcision signified, baptism signifies? Or are there new truths about the creation and nature of the people of God in the New Covenant that point toward a discontinuity as well as continuity between circumcision and baptism?

Notice again the following points:
1. Piper is not really connecting (at least) with his Catholic opponents because none of them try to limit what God has revealed to us to the New Testament alone. St. John said that all the books in the world could not contain all that Jesus said and did, and Jesus command his followers to follow all that he had taught…yet Jesus never wrote a single word down! The faith comes through the preaching of faithful witnesses, and the New Testament is only one channel that SOME of these faithful witnesses used to communicate God’s saving Word.

2. Piper is reversing things a bit: Circumcision don’t “signify” the same thing because they correspond. Rather, they correspond because they “signify” the same thing.

3. No one denies that there are similarities and differences, and that there are continuities and discontinuities. The question is about what precisely is continuous and what precisely is discontinuous. Thus, Piper’s “question” is a moot point, which again distracts his listeners from what the true question needs to be: what are the continuities and discontinuities? These rhetorical slights of hand take the listener’s critical attention away from Piper’s discussion of the discontinuities, as if Piper’s opponents think that Baptism is only continuous with circumcision.

Well, in my struggles with this issue over the years, especially the years in graduate school when I was studying mainly with paedobaptists, three or four texts, more than any others, kept me from embracing the argument from circumcision. One is Colossians 2:11-12. Another is 1 Peter 3:21. Another is Romans 9:8. And another is Galatians 3:26-27. I will take the Colossians text today and build on the others in the weeks to come.

How ironic! Those are the very texts used by the “Paedobaptists” to support infant baptism. Really, it isn’t those texts, but Piper’s interpretation of those texts that keep him from interpreting them like the “Paedobaptists.”

But that is a strange expression, isn’t it?? Actually, Piper’s act of interpreting the texts in that way CONSTITUTES THE VERY ACT of not embracing the historical, orthodox interpretation held by infant baptizers.

If this is as far as Piper’s argument has gotten, then it hasn’t gone anywhere, because he is still begging the original question: are Piper’s interpretations of the Bible correct? I, for one, am wondering why Piper read a passage from Colossians but has yet to simply exegete the passage.

By the way, I try not to let people’s use of language get under my skin, but since implicit in the use of language is the use of power, I’m particularly sensitive when a particular use of language attempts to silence other voices in the conversation. Rather than openly address the people, denominations, or the Catholic Church, Piper continues to refer to “Paedobaptists,” a strange word that many of Piper’s listeners probably have never heard and probably at this moment would not remember. While I’m all for technical terms when they allow one to achieve a certain precision of thought not otherwise attainable (such as the theological term “transubstantiation”) in ordinary language, Piper does not need to continually turn to this awkward expression.

So why does he do it? One of the effects of his use of language is to “ghettoize” the opposition. Applying this virtually unheard of name to people who believe in infant baptism has the effect in the listener’s mind of placing this group of people in a mental nether-region disconnected from all the other religious ideas that are floating around the brain. Just like we have barely if ever heard of the term, we assume that we barely have need to give this strangely-named group a close hearing.

Yet, all Catholics and even many Protestants baptize infants regularly, and do so based on Biblical grounds. Rather than make it seem taboo to even mention these people by name (using the sterile, technical term instead), why doesn’t Piper simply deal openly with the arguments made by people who agree with infant baptism. Why does he steal their name and thus their identity and voice? I’m not a paedobaptist. I am a Catholic! I am Catholic not only in my identity, but in my beliefs which are universal in time and place. I believe what orthodox Christians have believed every century since the beginning of the church. While Christian beliefs have developed over the centuries, they have not changed. The faith of our fathers is a sure, unchanging, rock-solid standard for Christians of every century to measure their beliefs against. Yes, we each have “our faith,” but both “my faith” and “your faith” are a different thing from “the faith.” The question is always, then, about how much “my faith” corresponds to “the faith.” Sadly, in our relativistic, modern culture, the very idea of “the faith” has been removed from our minds and language. It is time that we as Christians fight back against relativism by proving that our own religion is NOT relativistic. But this will involve sacrifice, and it will involve what St. Paul calls “the obedience of faith” (Romans 1). The orthodox faith is an obedient faith, obedient not just to the Bible but to the meaning of the Bible that has been passed down from the apostles.

Piper, for whatever reason, is not obedient to the meaning of the Bible that has been passed down from the apostles, in part because he doesn’t read it through the historical tradition that surrounds the Bible itself. Rather, he puts on a different pair of spectacles, and so the Bible appears to mean something different to him. I think that if Piper or his followers were to take off their Baptist spectacles and read the Bible from the historical perspective of the ancient Christian faith, they would find an astonishingly Catholic message.

But first let's make sure we don't miss the forest for the trees. This text (Colossians 2:10-15) is a virtual rain forest of strong gospel timber. Get a bird's eye view of it with me. It's all about what God has done for us (in history, objectively through Christ), and what he has done in us so that we will indeed inherit what he purchased.

FINALLY, Piper begins discussing directly the verses he read at the beginning of his sermon.

Notice that before he says a single word about them, he begins with a “catch”—a catch phrase, to be sure. There is apparently, in Piper’s mind, a danger in reading these verses of missing the forest for the trees. But doesn’t this mean that these verses are open to multiple interpretations? If this is so, then how do they serve to cinch the argument against baptismal regeneration and infant baptism as Piper claims they do?

Rather than just dive in and read the passage for what it says, Piper introduces mental apparatus through his catch phrase that is critical to his interpretive strategy. Just like pro-abortionists who mistakenly pit the “whole” (the mother) against the “part” (the fetus), Piper sets up a part-whole dichotomy between the “virtual rainforest of strong gospel timber” found in some versus and the “tree” that refers to baptism. Piper is trying to abort the tree, or at least what this passage says about baptism.

Unfortunately, no part of scripture can be pitted against any other part. There is no conflict between any part and the whole. Only when people come to a mistaken view of the whole do we see them begin to do a dance when a particular part contradicts their theology. One of the glorious things about being Catholic is that there is not a single verse in scripture that plainly contradicts our beliefs. We give a hearty “Amen!” to every single word, verse, chapter, and book of the bible (including the books that Martin Luther removed from his version because they contradicted his new theology). From a Catholic perspective, EVERY verse of the Bible is strong Gospel timber. It doesn’t matter if you zoom out or in, what you see is Catholic truth.

Notice that after setting up a distinction (and potential conflict) between part and whole, he begins focusing his congregation’s attention squarely on the whole: “It’s ALL about WHAT God has done for us…and WHAT he has done in us so that we will indeed inherit WHAT he purchased” (emphases mine).

Piper’s statement is not true, because these verses from Colossians address not only the three “whats” that Piper mentions but also the “when” and “how.” Isn’t it interesting that the debate surrounding baptism actually has nothing to do with the “whats” !! Both Catholics and Protestants agree that salvation is 100% by God’s grace, that it is completely and totally an unmerited free gift of God’s favor. We agree 100% that our salvation is not something that we work to achieve, but something that God accomplishes in our souls. We all agree that salvation is through Christ alone, and we all agree that through salvation, we will inherit heaven as brothers and sisters in Christ.

The question that leads to baptism is: WHEN and HOW does God first save us? WHEN and HOW does God first grant to his children the “whats” that Piper describes? WHEN and HOW does Christ perform a “circumcision made without hands” on our souls?

Because Piper doesn’t make his congregation aware of this, he perpetuates the misunderstanding that most Protestants have of the sacraments: that one can either believe the gospel OR the sacraments, Jesus OR the sacraments. The Catholic response: Why make either/or what the Bible makes both/and?

So, now the question for the critical reader becomes: is Piper going to directly address the questions of “when” and “how,” or is he going to perform a sleight-of-hand whereby an extended discussion of “what” suddenly leads to conclusions about “when”?

What God Has Done For Us

Take first the objective, historical, external work of God in verses 14-15. In essence, what these two verses tell us is that our two greatest enemies were defeated in the death of Christ. Nothing more powerful than the death of Christ has ever happened.

The first enemy defeated was the "certificate of debt" that was filed against us in the courtroom of heaven. In other words, because of our sin and rebellion, the laws of God had become a deadly witness against us and we were in such deep debt to God that there was no way out.

Here we find expressed a significant omission that contributes to Piper’s (and most Protestant’s) denial of the infant baptism. Notice that Piper says “because of OUR sin and rebellion…” However, we, as children of Adam and Eve, are BORN under the deep debt of God. We are disgraced, incapable of sharing the beatific vision, and in need of regeneration. We need to be newly created: born from above as Jesus puts it in John 3:5. Through one man’s sin, all have inherited a fallen nature. (Romans 5:12-19) No one (except the pure virgin Mother of Christ, the Ark of the New Covenant) is immaculately conceived. The Protestant denial of the effects of original sin produces important blind spots such as what we see here in Piper’s sermon.

How many unregenerated babies are going to die without being born again because we withhold baptism from them? Do we presume something of God that He nowhere says in the Bible He will do, namely, that everyone who dies before reaching the age of reason automatically goes to heaven? Christ said to let the little children come to him, yet we withhold them from the saving work he accomplishes through the sacrament of baptism. While I weep over the evil of abortion, how much sadder is it to think that children are not being brought to the fount of mercy and regenerated by Christ through water and spirit!

Do we think that Jesus is so stingy with his grace that he will not honor the prayers and faith of Christian parents who ask God to save and regenerate their children so that these children can enter heaven should they die? Does Jesus hold back his forgiveness and healing unless the person in need of healing specifically asks for it? When I read stories such as Matthew 8:1-13, Matthew 15:22-28, Luke 7:11-14, and best of all, Luke 5:17-20, I read about a God who is infinitely merciful, and finds reason to save a person based not on their faith but even on the faith of their friends and family. Note: if a person is willfully opposed to faith, such a person can not be saved. But if a person is infirm, mentally retarded, dead, or before the age of reason, God is perfectly capable of working in their soul (and body) to produce the gift of salvation, forgiveness, healing, and even life. He seems to enjoy it, and in the verses outlined above, he NOT ONCE rebukes the person making the plea with the typical Protestant notion that salvation is based on an “individual faith.” In fact, when people come asking for Jesus to heal another person (which always includes a spiritual healing, as many of Jesus’s responses point out), he usually responds by saying “I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Despite the many Protestant attacks on infant baptism I’ve heard during the years, it is these words of our Lord that come to mind when I offer my children to be saved at the washing of regeneration.

Verse 14 says that Christ canceled that whole debt by paying it all on the cross. "[He] canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross." So the great enemy of our sin and guilt and debt, Christ defeated. That happened in history, objectively, outside us.

Piper is on tricky ground here, because he is trying to tie the “when” of salvation back to calvary, which occurs “objectively” and “outside us” in time. But this begs the question, since we all know that the fact of Jesus’s passion, death, and resurrection does not mean that every human person will go to heaven.

Somehow, the fact of Calvary has to be applied to our lives. It has to become personal, “in us,” and subjective, at least in the sense that it is applied to our “subject,” or ourselves.

So, the question still stands: WHEN and HOW does Jesus apply the grace of Calvary and his saving blood to our souls?

The second enemy defeated was the host of evil spiritual beings : the devil and his forces. Verse 15: "When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him." It's true that we must still "wrestle with principalities and powers" (Ephesians 6:12), but if we wrestle in the power of Christ and his shed blood, they are as good as defeated, because the blow he struck was lethal.

Amen!! I love the way he puts it!

Revelation 12:11 says that believers "overcame [the devil] because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even to death." We must fight. But the battle belongs to the Lord and the decisive blow has been struck at Calvary. Satan cannot destroy us.

Well, "Satan can not destroy us" goes a bit far. (See my tract from an earlier post called “Salvation in the Bible.”) He can not destroy unless we let him. We can choose to turn from God, to reject him, and reject his gift of salvation. We can become spiritually dead through certain “mortal” sins. There is, after all, a sin that leads to death, as John implies in 1 John 5:16-17. How can we die spiritually if we were not previously made alive spiritually through being born again?

What God Has Done in Us

Now besides these two great objective, external, historical triumphs over our worst enemies (the debt of sin before God and the devil's hosts on earth), this forest also describes what God does in us : not just for us and outside of us but in us so that we benefit from what was done outside of us.

He uses two pictures: one is circumcision and the other is resurrection.

Sorry, Piper, but Paul uses more than two pictures. He also uses the “picture” of baptism. He DOESN’T use the picture of an alter call or “praying the sinner’s prayer.” This is unfortunate for Piper’s belief system, which is that we are “saved” when we first repent and believe (“the hour we first believe,” as the Protestant hymn “Amazing Grace” puts it).

Piper’s omission of the “picture” of baptism is important, because this passage from Colossians answers the questions of “when” and “how.”

But it doesn’t paint the picture Pastor Piper paints.

Catholics and Protestants agree that we are saved WHEN Christ performs a circumcision made without hands on us. But WHEN does Christ do this? According to Colossians 2:12, we are buried with him in Baptism, and through baptism we enter His resurrection. Baptism answers the “when” that has been looming over Piper’s argument. The passage offers no other answer to this question, nor does Romans 6 or 1 Peter 3. We are saved by baptism. Baptism now saves us. We are buried with Christ in Baptism. Baptism not only “pictures” it, it does it! We are not saved by a picture. We are not saved by a symbol. We are saved by Christ working in our souls, by producing his life in us, by us dying with Him and rising with Him, both of which are accomplished in baptism. Baptism may be the most powerful “picture” Piper has ever dreamed of. (Just wait until he meets the “bread and wine” of the Eucharist!!)

Verse 13 focuses mainly on our resurrection: When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions.

See the model that Paul is using? There are three time points. At point A) we are dead in our transgressions and spiritually uncircumcised, at point B) Christ makes us alive and forgives us all our transgressions, and at point C) we are in a state of being spiritually circumcised and remain in a state of grace.

So, verse 13, by itself, doesn’t answer the question of WHEN this “resurrection” occurs.

So you see what he does in us: we were spiritually dead, and he made us alive. This is the miracle of the new birth. You were saved because God spoke a life-giving, resurrecting word into your heart (2 Corinthians 4:6).

That is exactly right.

The other picture of what God does in us is the picture of circumcision. Verse 11:

In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ.

Now this is harder to understand because the ideas are more foreign to us.

While these ideas are foreign to us, they were not at all foreign to the Jews to whom Paul was writing. Thus, we must ask how Paul (one of the most brilliant Jews of his day) and his Jewish audience would have understood all this talk about circumcision. We must read the Bible with Jewish ears, and with a deep understanding of the ancient Jewish customs, language, prophecies, etc. Piper is right; these things are very foreign to modern readers, who live in a culture that could not be more different, who speak a language that could not be more different, who have inherited cultural attitudes and philosophical world-views that could not be more different than the ones held by Jesus’s contemporaries. Yet, how many Protestants privilege their interpretation of the Bible over the interpretation held by the first Christians?

Paul compares the saving work of God in us with the practice of circumcision. He says it's like that, only this is a circumcision made "without hands": it's a spiritual thing he is talking about, not a physical one.

Piper needs to be a bit more precise here: the EFFECTS are primarily spiritual, as are the MEANS. But this does not mean that the means cannot involve matter, just as when Jesus healed people spiritually, physical healing often accompanied the spiritual change. Also, Jesus often imparted grace through the matter that he himself created. Though he could have just spoken a healing word, he chose to rub spit and mud in the blind man’s eyes. Though he could have required that people touch him directly, he allowed power to flow from his garments. Clearly, Jesus does is not opposed to matter; he uses it to transmit grace on many occasions throughout the gospels.

How lucky you or I would have been to be that blind man. How fortunate you or I would have been to touch his garment. How fortunate we all are that Jesus has touched us with the saving water and spirit of baptism. How blessed we are that Jesus has anointed our heads with the sacred chrism oil, sealing our souls with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. How awesome it is that when we confess our sins, Jesus places his hands on our heads and speaks through the voice of his priest the words “I absolve you of your sins.” And how speechless we remain when Christ takes on the appearance of bread and wine and comes into our presence, sits on our palms, and communes with our body and souls. Amen! We believe!

Even if some Protestants have an anti-sacramental, anti-matter bias, all would do well to remember that matter can’t be completely useless in the spiritual life, or else Jesus’s incarnation, death, and resurrection would be completely meaningless, useless, and unnecessary. The sacraments are really an extension of the miracle and power of the incarnation, and to deny Jesus the ability to use matter to save us who are both body and soul—flesh and spirit—is ultimately to call into question the significance, power, and ultimately the necessity of the incarnation itself.

And he says that what is being cut away is not the male foreskin, but the "body of the flesh." In Paul's language that's probably a reference to sin-dominated, ego-dominated use of the body. What is cut away in this spiritual circumcision "without hands" is the old unbelieving, blind, rebellious self and its use of the body for sin. And that way, Paul is saying, God makes a person his very own.

This is good, though “body of the flesh” could mean other things as well. We’ll see if Piper makes important use of this point later.

So we have seen two pictures of what God does for us, objectively, historically, outside ourselves to save us: he defeats the enemy of sin and the enemy of Satan. And we have seen two pictures of what God does in us to make us part of that salvation: he raises us from the dead spiritually and he circumcises our hearts and strips away the old rebellious self and makes us new.

Do you see how Piper is putting great focus, emphasis, and weight on the first two pictures? I can just see Piper’s Bible, with these two pictures red-underlined and highlighted. And then there is that picture of baptism, left in the corner, so to speak.

Do you see how Piper’s rhetorical emphasis is actually not part of the passage itself, but reflects the kind of shading that can only be provided by an interpretive tradition? We forget how much things like inflection and rhetorical emphasis can change the meaning of words before our very eyes. But consider the following sentence, which can actually mean six different things if you emphasize one of the six different words:

I never said you stole money.

To give three examples, this sentence could mean:

I never SAID you stole money.
I never said YOU stole money.
I never said you stole MONEY.

You get the point. If six words could contain so many potential meanings, what about the entire Bible? Now, some people would argue that the Bible provides a context for all of the words contained within, such that the Bible interprets itself. I think this is true to a point. However, the fact that there are literally thousands upon thousands of interpretations of the Bible proves that, apart from any authoritative tradition, people can make the Bible mean almost ANYTHING. (I thought I’d provide a little emphasis in the last sentence, but imagine how the meaning would change for you if I emphasized a different word!)

So, the question we must ask when listening to Piper is: Does Piper’s conclusion flow from the text itself, or is it more a result of the particular “spin” Piper gives the text?

Remember, all people “spin” the texts they read, because words always require interpretation. The fundamental question is, what is the correct interpretation?

Baptism and Circumcision

Now, in that forest of glorious good news…

See what I mean…this is rhetorical language emphasizing the “whole” meaning of the text as opposed to the “part” (baptism) that Piper STILL HAS NOT DISCUSSED, even though this a sermon on baptism. He is going to great lengths to provide a TON of rhetorical emphasis on everything BUT what Colossians has to say about baptism. But, does all this emphasis arise from the text itself? Here, I would recommend that the reader go back and read the text again, apart from Piper’s rhetoric.

Now, in the forest of glorious good news, here's the question about the tree of baptism:

Catholics would say: “the glorious tree of baptism.” Hmm…are some verses of the Bible not glorious for Piper? Can you start to see why people who convert to the Catholic Church say that the Bible—the entire Bible—has suddenly come alive for them? So much of the Bible only makes “glorious” sense when read in the context of the orthodox Christian faith passed down from the Apostles.

Yes, the glorious tree of baptism is part of the glorious forest of good news. My problem with Piper is he is trying to remove the tree. Not very theologically green of him…

is water baptism the Christian counterpart to Old Testament circumcision? Is the continuity such that, just as circumcision was given to the children of God's covenant people then, baptism should now be given to the children of God's covenant people?

Once again, Piper is conflating two separate issues. Let it be noted: Colossians says nothing directly about infant baptism. It does say something directly about WHEN we are saved. Piper seems to be trying to dodge the “when we are saved” bullet by distracting his listeners with the countermeasure issue of infant baptism. Quite likely, his listeners’ skin shivers at the thought of infant baptism…just enough to distract them from the possibility that these verses teach something different about the nature of baptism itself (apart from whom the proper subjects of baptism are).

For the record, Piper is not using the language preferred by Catholics when speaking of the relationship between circumcision and baptism, or for that matter, between any Old Testament “type” and New Testament “reality.” The word used by Piper—“counterpart”—seems to equalize the two ideas. But just as it seems wrong (though it is not technically wrong) to say that Jesus is the New Testament counterpart to Adam, it seems somehow incomplete to say that baptism is merely the counterpart to circumcision. No, just as Jesus fulfills the type of the first Adam, just as Mary unties the first Eve’s knot of disobedience, just at the Church fulfills the Old Testament Ark and Davidic Kingdom—baptism FULFILLS many significant Old Testament types, including most notably circumcision. Circumcision is not merely replaced by baptism. The old wine skins of circumcision bust wide open with the grace-filled sacramental waters of baptism, of which circumcision was a mere shadow. Yet, circumcision was a powerful concept for the Jews, and lacking any clarifying explanation from Paul (or Peter, who says the promise of baptism is for “you and your families”), on what grounds do Protestants deny that Jesus did not intend children of Christian families to receive the New Covenant fulfillment of circumcision? Where do Paul or Peter say: “What matters now is the spiritual circumcision that Christ performs on you; but note well—THIS circumcision is not for your children, or your family, or for your servants. It is for you ALONE! Jesus will not save anyone until they have demonstrated a personal faith in me”?

The key verses are verses 11-12. Notice the linking of the two ideas of circumcision and baptism:

. . .in Him [Christ] you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

It's clear there's a link here between baptism and circumcision.

Good! What’s the link?

But it isn't, I think, what many infant baptizers think it is.

(Note the negative framing of his response.)

Okay, then…what do infant baptizers think it is?

Notice what sort of circumcision is spoken of in verse 11: it is precisely a circumcision "without hands."

Yes, that is exactly right. When we are baptized, Christ spiritually circumcises our soul, regenerating us and making us a new creation by his blood. Our soul is not a material object, and so of course it is a circumcision made without hands, just like Paul says.

That means Paul is talking about a spiritual counterpart of the Old Testament physical ritual.

Here, we start to see once again a pitting of the spiritual and the physical. The fact is, if you had faith in God as a Jew but refused circumcision, you were not part of the family. And while circumcision didn’t carry the same graces that baptism does, this does not mean that it didn’t have a spiritual component. The New Testament sacrament of baptism, likewise, is a primarily a wondrous, miraculous spiritual event, though one that also involves physical elements. No orthodox Christian for 2,000 years has believed that we are saved by having someone immerse us in (or pour over us) mere water. No! It is the spirit hovering over the waters, just like it was Jesus’s spirit in his spit or garment, that saves us, changes us, regenerates us. Piper doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge any of these beliefs of his opponents. He is too busy pitting the spiritual against the physical…

Then baptism is linked in verse 12 to that spiritual counterpart to the Old Testament circumcision. This is extremely important. Try to get it.

Hmm… I thought scripture was clear as day about all this…

What is the New Testament counterpart or parallel to the Old Testament rite of circumcision?

Good question! What is it?

Answer: it is not the New Testament rite of baptism;

Are you seeing a pattern here? When it comes to points of division with the historical, Catholic teaching, Protestant teachers can barely help stating conclusions in negative terms. After stating the second critical (and most relevant) question to his sermon, Piper (once again) doesn’t begin by answering his own question but by reaffirming that his opponents are wrong!

Sorry, Piper, but if you are going to deny 2,000 years of Church teaching, you better have something good to put in its place!

it is the New Testament spiritual event of the circumcision of Christ cutting away "the [old sinful] body of the flesh."

What!? Where in Colossians or anywhere else is this distinction made—between the external “rite” and the internal “circumcision of Christ?” Baptism IS the event during which Christ circumcises us spiritually. He is the one who baptizes. He is the one who circumcises. We are buried and raised with him through baptism. Baptism now saves us! On what basis does Piper drive a wedge between the rite of baptism and the work of Christ through that rite? Why is Piper so anti-ritual, when those rituals are the very rituals that Christ instituted and commanded, and even gave us thousands of years of preparation for?

then, baptism is brought in as the external expression of that spiritual reality.

What?! Piper has just introduced a fourth time point into the timeline expressed by Colossians. According to Colossians, there was a time when we were uncircumcised and there is now the time when we are circumcised. WHEN did the transition occur? The ONLY answer at all found in Colossians is WHEN we were buried with Christ through baptism.

Colossians says nothing along the lines that we were circumcised at some time point other than baptism, and “then baptism is brought in as the external expression of that spiritual reality.” Notice, as well how Piper’s use of language itself shifts away from that found in the Bible to that which is common to the Baptist tradition. "External expression" is a Baptist expression external to the Bible.

Finally, notice that Piper has not yet offered an explanation of what occurs at the time point that Christ actually does circumcise us without hands. When does that occur, if not at baptism, Piper? Why don’t you simply come out and explicitly deny what Colossians says by saying that we were buried in Christ…when, if not baptism??

That is precisely what the link between verses 11 and 12 says. Christ does a circumcision without hands : that is the New Testament, spiritual fulfillment of Old Testament circumcision. Then verse 12 draws the parallel between that spiritual fulfillment and the external rite of baptism.

Sorry, Piper, but baptism is no mere external rite. When you married your wife, was it merely an external rite or was some invisible action—the two becoming one—the real event of the ritual? On what basis do you continue to drive a wedge between the external and the internal? Peter says that baptism now saves us (1 Peter 3:21). Are we saved by an external ritual? Are we saved by mere water? No, we are saved by grace, which is normally first imparted through the sacrament of baptism. Baptism is necessary for our salvation, which is why Jesus told Nicodemus that we must be “born of water and spirit” to enter the kingdom of heaven. The earliest fathers of the church unanimously agreed that Jesus was referring to baptism. They gave their heads for their beliefs, were burnt at the stake, and were ground like fine wheat in the mouths of lions as a testimony to the truth. Remind me…why do you not believe these students of the apostles and first-century martyrs?

My dear reader: two thousand years of history stand looking over your shoulders at this very moment. The faith of millions upon millions of orthodox Christians, passed down from generation to generation, documented in writing from the very beginning and received from the apostles themselves by mouth and letter (2 Thess. 2:15) is that Baptism is the sacrament of our rebirth, through which we are circumcised without hands. And now we read Piper’s argument for why this cannot be, why the students of the apostles must have gotten it wrong…

Notice what verse 11 stresses about the new work of Christ in circumcising: it is a circumcision "without hands." But water baptism is emphatically a ritual done "with hands."

No, this is a simply not true, and it is not the teaching of the ancient church. The church has emphasized for 2,000 years that baptism is (emphatically) a work done without hands, for it is the work of enlightenment by the Holy Spirit and the spiritual circumcision of Christ.

The cause of salvation during the rite is not the work of the priest’s hands but the work of Christ’s “hands” on the soul. Piper, you really should study the beliefs of your opponents before you plant ideas about your opponents in the minds of your congregation.

Furthermore, confessing Christ as savior is just as much a work done with tongue and lips as baptism is a work done with hands. Sorry, but nothing you propose that involves the “spiritual” salvation of humans can be done without the involvement of some part of the saved person’s body. But does this mean that Christ is not the one doing the saving at that moment?

So the question remains—WHEN does Christ circumcise without hands?

If we simply say that this New Testament ordinance of baptism done with hands corresponds to the Old Testament ritual of circumcision done with hands, then we miss the most important truth: something new is happening in the creation of people of God called the church of Christ. They are being created by a "circumcision without hands" by God. They are being raised from the dead by God.

This is pretty much correct. But, isn’t this what Piper’s message is adding up to? That baptism is just an ordinance done with hands? That it doesn’t do anything? That it is merely external, just like circumcision (according to Piper) was external? I agree completely that something new is happening as we are regenerated, but you have not given any evidence so far for your claim that this regeneration occurs at some other point than when I was “buried with Christ in baptism.”

And baptism is a sign of that, not a repetition of the Old Testament sign.

No one thinks that baptism is a repetition of an Old Testament sign. Rather it fulfills numerous OT signs. In contrast, no orthodox Christian in any of the first fifteen centuries of Christianity believed that baptism was merely a sign. No, baptism not only “pictures” the death and resurrection of Christ being manifest in the believer; it produces it. Baptism is more powerful than all the stars in the universe combined! Let us approach this Holy sacrament with awe and wonder.

There is a new sign of the covenant because the covenant people are being constituted in a new way : by spiritual birth, not physical birth.

I agree…and that new "sign" is baptism. (Notice…Piper hasn’t yet offered any alternatives to baptism. He has spent all his energy so far saying what baptism is not.)

"Through Faith"

And one of the clearest evidences for this is the little phrase "through faith" in verse 12. Watch this carefully. This is what held me back from paedobaptism through years of struggle, until I saw more and more reasons not to join up. Verse 12 links the New Testament spiritual circumcision "without hands" in verse 11 with baptism, and then links baptism with faith:

Having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

If baptism were merely a parallel of the Old Testament rite of circumcision it would not have to happen "through faith" since infants did not take on circumcision "through faith."

Wrong, it was ALWAYS through faith, the faith of the family. Statements like this show how out-of-touch Piper is with Jewish thinking. Remember, Jews were saved through faith just like Christians are today, so much so that the “faith” of Jews such as Abraham become exhibits A, B, and C when New Testament writers like James and Paul are talking about justification. Faith was intimately bound with circumcision in the Old Testament, just like faith is intimately bound with baptism in the New Testament.

Faith must be present. The Catholic Church has simply received from the apostles and their immediate successors that the faith of the family (“never have I seen such great a faith in all Israel”) is sufficient for Christ to perform His saving work.

Thus, contrary to Piper’s implication, infants do take on baptism and spiritual circumcision by faith.

The reason the New Testament ordinance of baptism must be "through faith" is that it represents not the Old Testament external ritual, but the New Testament, internal, spiritual experience of circumcision "without hands."

Piper’s error continues to manifest itself. Sorry Piper, but baptism is the sacrament of faith, the sacrament of regeneration, the sacrament of our “handless” circumcision, and the sacrament of our spiritual rebirth. What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.

Those two words : "through faith" : in verse 12 are the decisive, defining explanation of how we were buried with Christ in baptism and how we were raised with him in baptism: it was "through faith."

Here, Piper is just having fun with Colossians by shifting the words around. But, the end result of his game is that Colossians still says what Piper denies: we are buried with Christ in baptism and raised with him in baptism. The Catholic Church has always taught that this occurs through faith. In this respect, Piper may be more Catholic in his understanding than he realizes.

And this is not something infants experience.

Wait a minute! All the Bible says is “through faith.” It never takes the experientialist, individualist view that says faith is limited to a personal experience. Here, Piper’s received tradition colors his understanding of the word "faith," and all of his congregation accepts it hook, line, and sinker, because talking about a personal faith relationship and a saving, powerful, conversion experience are part and parcel of modern, Evangelical life. It is almost as if a person can’t be saved unless this moment is a powerful personal “experience” for the person (perhaps one that will make a good testimony story later in life). This does not mean that the personal relationship is not critical, and that one shouldn't have dozens (not just one) conversion testimonies to share with unbelievers. Actually, Catholics try to convert more radically closely to Christ every day, week, and year, since we believe sanctification is a continual process. I think part of the need to think of the moment one is "saved" as occuring when one is concious of it is because of what a strong identity marker this moment is for many evangelicals. How can one identify by something that they didn't "experience" (because they were an infant)? The Catholic Church would say that our identity comes not from an experience but flows from WHO WE ARE. At baptism, we become CHILDREN OF GOD, and this objective knowledge that Christ has made us his children through the sacrament provides an identity to Catholics no matter when they received the sacrament.

Furhter, while the Catholic Church strongly promotes a personal relationship with Christ, it never reads this personal relationship as something that happens apart from the personal relationship between Christ and his Church. After all, Christ marries his Bride, and it is through being a member of the Bride that we enter into an intense love-relationship with our Bridegroom.

I’m not sure where Piper gets his data that an infant cannot experience being buried with Christ through baptism. I saw my one son and daughter experience this. Were they conscious of it? No. But is God able to save someone who may not be consciously aware of the action? Yes. Does God have reason to? Yes. Did Jesus ever do it in the Bible? All the time. “I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Also, how does Piper know what infants can and cannot experience? Does he have some special scientific instrument that can read what goes on in the soul of an infant? What reading might this instrument have given when John the Baptist lept in his Elizabeth’s womb?

Furthmore, do infants “choose” to be born in a state of original sin? No. Why, then, must they “choose” to have Christ regenerate them? Why can’t parents approach Jesus in faith and ask him in faith to save and regenerate their child? Why on heaven and earth would Christ say no?

A final thing to ponder is this: Despite all this, Piper, when pressed, would probably admit (despite NO Biblical data on the matter) that he believes children who die before the age of reason go to heaven. Now, I would ask Piper: can anyone go to heaven apart from being covered by the blood of Jesus? If Piper says no, then he has just admitted that the blood of Jesus can be applied to the soul of an infant who has not “experienced” being “born again.” If Piper believes Jesus can do this, then why all the fuss about infant baptism, especially when the teaching itself goes all the way back to the first century of the church? All infant baptism is is the cleansing of original sin through the Blood of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Isn’t it easy to get so wrapped up in theological arguments that we forget the historical perspective? The critical reader must remember that the arguments presented here do not occur in a historical vacuum. Baptism wasn’t invented yesterday; we have centuries of data going back to the apostles that tell us what the early church thought on the matter. People who want to be New Testament Christians should consider that every Christian who lived during New Testament times disagrees with Piper on the nature of baptism.

Faith is a conscious experience of the heart yielding to the work of God.

Says who? Where does the Bible give this definition? The Bible tends to speak of faith in terms of 1) obedience, which is an act of the will, not a feeling of the senses or emotions; and 2) a content of belief—“the faith”—which is the object of the soul and intellect. Of course, babies are not capable of intently expressing this obedience or understanding this content, but they are not capable of willfully opposing faith either.

Infants are not capable of this, and therefore infants are not fit subjects of baptism, which is "through faith."

How do you know this? The Old Covenant was through faith, yet infants were fit subjects of circumcision. Why does Jesus (according to you) withhold baptism from infants? Is not God’s grace a free gift, for which nothing is required? Why does God not want to honor the faith of the infant’s family?

Note: infants may not be capable of faith as Piper imagines it, but the way Piper limits faith is not how the Bible understands faith. Notice that Piper does not back up his idea of faith from the Bible.

So I urge those of you who have not yet come to faith in Christ to consider the rainforest of good news in these verses: that Christ died and rose again to cancel our debt with God and to triumph over Satan; and that he raises spiritually dead people from the grave and circumcises sinful hearts : he does all this through faith.

Abortion complete. Notice what slips out of the summary of Colossians: baptism. (I say summary, because beginning in the next sentence, Piper begins using language not found in the Colossians passage, thus clearly marking a shift away from his paraphrase of the Bible verses that were the subject of his sermon.) Piper’s summary finally removes baptism from the verses altogether. In its place, Piper posits faith…as if we are saved by faith. Faith verses baptism? This may be the most famous of all the false dichotomies to be found in Protestant theology.

I stand with Paul. We are buried with Christ, risen with Christ, circumcised by Christ in baptism, which occurs through faith. The Holy Spirit, not the Catholic Church, put baptism together with circumcision in Colossians. And what God hath joined together…

He brings us to trust him, by showing us how true and beautiful he is. Look to him and believe.

Yes, Christ is true and beautiful. And we pray that Christians who are baptized as infants continue to grow in the Lord and never fall away. Yes, Christ is true; He is true to His sacramental oaths, and it is these promises that centuries of Christians have relied upon for salvation.

Look at Him and believe. And look at His work through baptism and believe!

And then he bids us to express that faith in baptism.

He does want us to do this, especially since part of “the faith” new Christians believe is that Christ wants to save them through baptism.

Remember, we are saved by God’s grace, not by our faith. Although Piper denied that our salvation first occurs at the time point of baptism, he not once explicitly stated what that time point before baptism looks like. How do I know that I’ve gone through time point B (what? The sinner’s prayer, an alter call, etc.?) before getting to the external, graceless, symbolic-only rite of baptism?

If you want to prepare for this step of obedience, you can come up after the service, or you can check it off on the worship folder leaf, or you can come to the baptismal preparation class starting next Sunday for two weeks.

May the Lord draw many of you to the enjoyment of this full obedience "through faith."

Sadly, in his emphasis on faith as opposed to baptism, Piper has lost part of “the faith” that was left once and for all with the saints (Jude 3).

Until next time, I invite my readers to read up on the sacraments at Catholic Answers' website. Former Baptist Steve Ray also has a lot of great reading material on his website.

I leave you with one final quote, from St. Augustine:

Infant Baptism the Church has always had, always held; this she received from the faith of our ancestors; this she perseveringly guards even to the end.
St. Augustine (354-430), Sermon 11

Thanks be to God!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Bible Quiz

Which statements (below) are biblical expressions?

In a month or so, I'll discuss each statement from a Biblical, Catholic perspective. Until then, feel free to answer "yes" or "no" (and provide a short defense, if you like) in the combox.

1. The Bible is the pillar and bulwark (defender) of the truth.
2. I rejoice in my suffering because it makes up what is lacking in Christ’s suffering.
3. The Holy Spirit leads individuals to the correct interpretation of the Bible. Therefore, we are encouraged to privately interpret the Bible on our own.
4. The communion bread and wine are the same flesh of Christ that hung on the cross.
5. Baptism does not save you.
6. In the two thousand years since Pentecost, the Holy Spirit has continually revealed new doctrinal and moral truths from the Bible to Christians.
7. The Bible comes before the church, so the church is built on the Bible.
8. We are justified by faith alone.
9. Church leaders have the authority to forgive and retain sins.
10. When we die, we may suffer a fiery pain of cleansing, though we ourselves may be saved.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Is the Church Invisibly United? A New Thought, and Some Questions

The supposed distinction between the visible, divided church and the invisible, united church that allows Protestant theology to escape the implications of Jesus's high priestly prayer in John 17 may be rooted in the first lie recorded in the Bible: "You will not surely die [if you eat the fruit]."

At first, Satan seems to have told the truth. In fact, Adam and Eve did not die (at least immediately) in the physical sense. But we know that they died spiritually the moment they touched the forbidden fruit.

Satan's deceit takes advantage of an apparent separation between our physical and spiritual states. Yet, Satan indeed was proven the ultimate liar, since Adam and Eve died countless deaths each day of their remaining lives, culminating in their final deaths, neither of which were part of God's original "plan" (though God's foreknowledge of the fall of both angels and men can not be denied). Further, Eden could only be reentered by the sword. In every respect, the realities of spiritual and physical death were very much intertwined for Adam and Eve.

I think that recent Protestant theology relies upon and reinscribes the supposed division between the visible and invisible that was the unspoken premise in Satan's first lie to man. (I say recent, since it is my understanding that the original "reformers" disagreed with each other over essential doctrines so vehemently that they thought each other to be the offspring of Satan himself, not fellow brothers united in a spiritual way. I think the "spiritualization" of the church is symptomatic of modern Christians' profound misunderstanding and even distrust of doctrine.)

Except now Satan's lie is reversed: If you eat the fruit [dividing the visible church into countless denominations and non-denominations], you [the invisible church] will not die. Unlike Adam and Eve who died a spiritual death that manifest itself physically, we accept a physical death (visible division) on the premise that it does not divide us spiritually. Love can not tolerate these divisions! Christians need to reunite so that Satan's lies can be thoroughly routed from the church!

Here are some questions that I hope non-Catholics consider in prayer:

1. Does the current, splintered state of Protestantism reflect the type of unity that Jesus prayed for in John 17?

2. What doctrines must be believed for someone to be considered a member of the invisibly united church? Who decides, and on what authority?

3. Apart from the doctrines listed in response to the second question, how many doctrinal divisions and clearly false doctrines does it take for a person to be considered NOT part of the true invisibly united church? Are Mormons part of the true invisibly united church? Can one be only partially united to the true invisibly united church?

4. Where does the Bible say that it is acceptable for Christians to believe wildly different doctrines, as long as they agree on the "essentials" [please refer to the answer given in the second question for what these essentials might be]?

5. Where do the earliest fathers of the church (Peter, Paul, John, Ignatius, Clement, Polycarp, Justin, etc.) say that it is acceptable for Christians to believe wildly different doctrines, as long as they agree on the "essentials"?

6. Do Jesus and the Father disagree on any doctrines? If yes, which ones? If no, is their agreement essential or unessential to their Triniterian unity?

7. Jesus prayed that Christians would be one like He and the Father are one. Did Jesus qualify this statement to exclude doctrinal oneness? Was Jesus simply being naive about the possibility of Christian doctrinal unity, or do you think he had a plan in mind for how such unity might be achieved? Do we feel naive when/if we hope, pray, and work for complete Christian unity? Do others treat us as being naive? Was Christ's prayer naive?

8. Was such a unity ever present within Christianity from the first century to the present day? If so, how was it maintained?

9. "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden." (Matthew 5:14) How can the true church be a light to the world if it is strictly an invisible entity?

10. "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." (John 17:33) How will the world be convinced by a complete unity if all they see is complete disunity? How does "complete unity" exclude doctrinal unity? How can the world see anything that is invisible?

11. How can an invisible church be the "pillar and foundation of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15) if the visible members that make up this church disagree on almost every doctrinal truth-claim? Also, why does the Bible teach that the church is the pillar of the truth when Protestants teach that the Bible is the pillar of the truth (if not exactly in those terms)?

12. If a brother sins against me (say, by accusing me of heresy) and the situation can not be resolved, Jesus says I should take the matter to the church, and if my brother doesn't listen to the church, he should then be treated "as a pagan or tax-collector." (Matthew 18:15-17) Jesus then immediately reminds the apostles that "I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." (v. 18; see also Matthew 16:19 and Isaiah 22:20-24) How does Jesus's teaching about the church in Matthew 18 make sense if the church is a visibly-divided invisibly-united entity with no authority? Did Jesus establish a retirement clause for this and other versus that suggest apostolic authority? Did Matthias have the same authority as the apostles when he assumed the bishopric vacated by Judas in Acts 1:20-25? Did the early church treat the successors of the apostles as having the same authority to bind and loose as the early occupants of the cathedra?

13. Could it be that the notion of the invisible unity of all believers is an idea created within Protestant theology to ignore the splintering of Protestantism that has been present since the first "reformers" broke away from the true church?

14. As a thought experiment, consider for a moment the alternative notion from the Protestant one. Consider that the visible splintering within Christianity is symptomatic of real spiritual separation within the Bride of Christ. Consider that Christ was not being naive in offering his prayer in John 17. Consider that no one until the sixteenth century honestly questioned what the "true church" was. Consider that all the fathers of the early church saw unity as something that existed through the authoritative heiarchy of bishops in union with the bishop of Rome and all those faithful who remain obedient to their teachings. Consider that the Holy Spirit is actually 100% successful in bringing about Christian unity by guiding all Christians who obey the church through whom he speaks to complete doctinal and moral unity. In contrast, consider the doctrinal disunity and denominationalism wrought by the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. If you can acknowledge that Sola Scriptura (historically) leads only to disunity but an authoritative magisterium leads (historically) to unity, but you reject the latter option, how else might Jesus have expected His prayer for complete unity to be answered?

15. Is Jesus's prayer for unity being answered today? If no, consider that "the prayer of a righteous man avails much." (James 5:16) Jesus is the most righteous man that ever lived. Why is His prayer for complete unity not being realized today? Was it ever realized?

16. Can the model of authority based on the Bible Alone that is the foundation for Protestant theology be expected to lead to Christian unity? Who has the authority today to interpret the Scriptures in a way that must be believed with the obedience of faith?

May we all be one as Jesus and the Father are one. Lord, pour out your Spirit like never before, and give us hearts and minds open to the truth of your Church. Amen!