Thursday, January 31, 2008

Augustine-on Cicero and Vanity

In 410 A.D., Dioscorus was taking a trip, apparently to Rome. He was nervous about what the Romans might ask him concerning their illustrious orators of the past, as well as the famous Greeks, but particularly Cicero. In order to prep himself, he wrote a hurried letter to St. Augustine with a long list of questions regarding Cicero's dialogues. He knew Augustine could help him save face in Rome.

Instead of answering Diascorus's question and relieving his fear of finding himself a fool for not knowing the knowledge of the Greeks and Romans, Augustine brutally takes him to task.

He says, "My question is: Why did you not say, "Any one who can make no reply ( about Cicero) will be proved to be illiterate and stupid, " but prefer to say, "He will be regarded as illiterate and stupid? Why, if not for this reason, that you yourself already understand well enough that the person who fails to answer such question is not in reality, but only in the opinion of some, illiterate and stupid?"

And here's the zinger!

"But I warn you that he who fears to be subjected to the edge of the pruning-hook by the tongues of such men is a sapless log, and is therefore not only regarded as illiterate and stupid, but is actually such, and proved to be so."

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Augustine-Baptism of Faith

Letter 98, to Boniface.
Boniface asks "Why do we ask the parents questions about the child's belief when the child is obviously not capable of believing." The baptismal liturgy went something like this.

Minister: Does this child believe in God?

Parent: Yes, he believes.

Part of Augustine's answer is this, "...the answer is made that he turns himself to God because of the sacrament of conversion..."

And also, "Therefore an infant, although he is not yet a believer in the sense of having that faith which includes the consenting will of those who exercise it, nevertheless becomes a believer through the sacrament of faith."

So, in Augustine's thinking, baptism was the sacrament of conversion and made the infant a believer.


It is helpful to read the ancients, if for no other reason, than to see that our faith is also ancient. Furthermore, there is the wonderful aspect of its continuity. We have the wonderful privilege of reading the same Bible Augustine read over 1600 years ago.

One of the often overlooked realities of the reformation is that great saint, Augustine. Particularly in Calvin, the reformation took the form of simply returning to the doctrines and practice of the early church. Calvin quotes Augustine page after page. In Augustine's case, we are harkening back to around 400 A.D.

As I read through Augustine's letters, I have been repeatedly surprised and pleased to find great support for some of our most distinctive elements. By our, I mean, our denomination, the CREC, Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches.

I hope to give you a few more of his quotes as I get along. Augustine speaks of baptism in a most wonderful way, fully consistent with our views that children are full members of the church.

This one from Letter 98, to Boniface. Augustine is replying to a question from Boniface about whether Christian children are harmed when their parents offer sacrifices to idols when they are sick.

"To which I reply that, in the holy union of the parts of the body of Christ, so great is the virtue of that sacrament, namely, of baptism, which brings salvation, that so soon as he who owed his first birth to others, acting under impulse of natural instincts, has been made partaker of the second birth by others, acting under the impulse of spiritual desires, he cannot be thenceforward held under the bond of that sin in another to which he does not with his own will consent."

Augustine then argues that the child is not held guilty by the guilt of his parents offering sacrifice. But note what he does say in this paragraph. Baptism has great virtue, brings salvation and is the second birth. Perhaps we want to qualify these statements somewhat and Augustine himself does so in many places. But instead of running to the qualifications, and then believing the qualifications instead of the principle of the thing, we ought to take a moment to bask in the thing signified in baptism. We get the 'thing' as well as the symbol of the thing. What is it? Virtue, salvation, born again.

Exhortation-God Sensitive Service

Today, we continue our sermon about the liturgy, our order of worship. We come here each Lord’s Day to gather with the saints and worship God. Many in the reformed tradition have realized that Sundays are for worshipping God. They are not to be seeker friendly entertainment hours that feed the self-esteem but do not reveal the glory of God. And I completely agree. We have drifted into times when we are so introspective that everything that goes on around us must somehow feed our own personal self-worth. And if it doesn’t, not only is it unhelpful, the talking heads tell us that it may even be evil.

But we are trying to find out who God is, what He desires, how we can be acceptable to Him, what pleases Him, and how our Sunday worship relates to all of this. So, the seeker sensitive mindset should not be ours. We should have a God sensitive mindset that governs what we do here and how we do it.

That being said, I do not want to disparage the humanistic aspect of corporate worship. We call our service, “The Lord’s Service.” The service belongs to Him, that is, our worship. And in that service, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, also serves us. He does not worship us but He does come to us and fulfill all of our needs. Not our ‘felt’ needs but our real and deep needs. And in this, we find that while we are not primarily seeking out our own desires, needs, and wishes here on the Lord’s Day, that they are all met anyway.

Furthermore, the more we pursue this course of seeking God first, the more we will find ourselves. This is a good picture of the life of the Christian paradox.

Seek ye first His kingdom, take up the cross and follow me, He who loses his life for my sake will find it.

So, while our paradigm in not one of seeker sensitivity, asking what they want and giving it to them, in our God-sensitivity, we find that God knows what we need and He gives it to us. In seeking His glory, we find our ultimate good.

Loving the Saints-Honesty is the Best Policy

Last Sunday in my communion meditation I said that an honest answer to why children are not allowed at the Lord’s Table is the belief that they are not welcome there. Specifically, that the reason is “that we think that Jesus does not like them that much.”

That statement may seem harsh and I did get some feedback from it. I want to make a bit of a clarification here. I am not saying that pastors and parents think bad thoughts about their own children. I strongly believe that pastors and parents think they are preventing harm coming to their children by keeping them away from the Table. It seems a strange thing to do to prevent harm but not if you think the cup is a potential curse for unworthy receivers.

I also grant that they have some good historical and even biblical reasons for doing so. I might add that I think that both their historical and biblical reasons are lacking. However, they are being faithful to what they think is the historical or biblical position. I am not asserting ill motives on their part.

However, if they are truly honest about their understanding of church history on this subject as well as their understanding of the Bible on this subject, it amounts to the fact that their children are not yet worthy recipients of the Table. As good Protestants, I hope they do not mean that worthy recipients merit God’s favor. What Protestants mean by worthy recipient is that they are objects of God’s favor. Since children are not welcome at the table, then they are therefore, by definition, NOT objects of God’s favor. I do not see how we can avoid this conclusion, no matter how we try to support a non- paedo-communion view from church history or even from the Bible.

Finally, we have to live with whatever the Bible teaches, even if it teaches that God does not like our kids that much until they reach a certain age. If that is what the Bible teaches, then I am prepared to alter my practice to conform to God’s standard. Thankfully, I have diverse Biblical teaching that explicitly tells me otherwise. God, the Father likes my children. Jesus does, too. And the Holy Spirit is willing to dwell with them on good terms. Not because they are good but because He is.

Communion Meditation-Jesus loves the little children

Jesus not only gives up his life for his people, He gives His life to His people. –Tim Gallant, The Case for Covenant Communion
Matt 19:13-15 13 Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. 15 And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence.
The kingdom of heaven belongs to the children. It is made up of such people. This is the exegetical meaning of Jesus’s statement here in Mathew. And as we have seen recently in our sermons on heaven and earth, Jesus is not talking about heaven, the afterlife, being for children (although it is). Nor, is He here talking about having a childlike faith or demeanor. He is saying that these children are in the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom that Jesus Himself inaugurated on earth. These children are His children and are in the kingdom. So, he lays hands on them and blesses them.
The more we practice paedocommunion and the more we study this issue in Scripture, the more I am astounded that we did not see it sooner and the more I am astounded that the church at large cannot see it now.
Jesus went out of His way to teach us to be like children and to teach us that little children, little carried children, infants and sucklings, ought to come to Him and do indeed belong to Him. To fail to see this is to fail to understand God, as Father, the way that we should. To not practice paedocommunion is to tell a very great lie about God, that He is dangerous in the wrong way, that unless we get things right, He is against us.
But the Scriptures teach us the opposite about God. He is Father, waiting on us to come to Him, eager to forgive, willing to overlook our faults because we are friends of Jesus, covered in His blood. A wrong view of the Lord’s Supper, paints God in a very different light. He is an austere judge, waiting to get us, not easily pacified, is perfectionistic, doesn’t really care if we are covered in Jesus’s blood. I grant that one may not be a paedocommunionist and still have basically right views about God. But, let’s be honest. The reason we won’t let our children come and eat Jesus’s food, is because we think Jesus does not really like them yet. But Jesus tells us, and you, very differently than that in Scripture. Let the children come unto me. I say, “Come to Jesus and eat, you and your children, believing in God’s promises to you and to them.”