Friday, August 03, 2007

Of Football Games

In my last post I discussed signs and seals. The reason this is such a hot topic is because Christians believe that salvation by faith alone plus nothing. If a person were to say that baptism was part of a person’s salvation he would be denying the doctrine of solo fide Salvation by faith alone.

Here’s how the arguments break down: One fellow claims that the Westminster confession is in agreement with him when it says refers to the efficacy of salvation for salvation (XXVIII, 6). The Larger Westminster Catechism also assumes that baptism is efficacious for a person’s salvation (q. 161) in the same way that the Shorter Catechism assumes that the Word is efficacious for salvation (q. 91). The other says that the way this really works is that baptism points the way, or leads in the way that a person needs to go in order to be saved eventually by faith.

The first fellow says he believes in salvation by faith alone, but that God uses means in a person’s life that are part of the salvation process which lead him to faith. He says that Salvation, as an event, is much longer than simply one point in which a person actually believes.

The other fellow believes so strongly in salvation by faith alone that he believes that baptism is one event, among many independent events in a person’s life, that lead him to the place of eventual belief in the Gospel and salvation comes to a person in that one precise event of belief. I believe this is a possible way for a person to understand the Biblical expression of the Bible, but I believe that it is an immature and unbiblical way of viewing both the Scriptures and salvation. It is also not the way the Westminster documents present salvation.

Here is a way of trying to see these two positions. Think of a football game. Some would say that the most important part of a football game is the part where you look at the scoreboard at the end of the game and which ever team has the most points wins. The game is essentially about the score at the end. 10 years down the road when you talk about the game, the score will be the most important thing. The man who believe strongly in Salvation by faith alone is emphasizing this aspect of a football game.

The other fellow claims that while the score at the end is indeed important, it does not fully express the actual football game. The kickoff at the beginning is just as much a part of the game as the half time score and just as much a part as the final 2 minute drill the losing team works to try to catch up. The grandstand play at the end is also part of the game as well as the time-outs and, in a real way, the s on the sidelines. All these things lead up to the final score, but the game includes all these things. If you take any part of the game away, you wouldn’t have the final score and so everything in the game can at some time be talked about as the game.

In a paedobaptistic family a child comes into the kingdom in the waters of baptism and then until he dies, he lives in the presence of God. He can talk about particular aspects of his life as if they made up his whole life, but in reality they are simply parts of the whole thing. In Christ, a child who is raised in a Christian home as a baptized child may never know a time when he didn’t believe in Christ or know a living vibrant relationship with Christ. He was living in salvation his entire life. It began in the waters of baptism and ended, when, after death he entered into the throne room of God and was welcomed as an old friend. His life began in faith, was spent in faith, was ended in faith and glorified in faith. His salvation was by faith alone from first to last.

In the non-Christian family the kids grow up and go off to college, never hearing anything about God or Christ. Then some Christian guy gets into their space and tells them about Jesus. A big argument ensues and somewhere in there the non-Christian kid realizes that once he was arguing against the Gospel and now all of a sudden he’s arguing for it. He has no idea when the shift came, but whereas once he didn’t believe, now he does. So he gets baptized. Then 60 years later he dies and during all this time from the first time he met the Christian until he died, he was being saved—by faith.

Everyone who will be saved will be saved by faith alone. No one will be saved by anything other than the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But salvation is about life not about events. It is about a relationship with God, not Greek constructs. Of course you can plop into someone’s life and ask them when they were saved, but what you’re really asking is when did God first act in your life? And if he’s thinking biblically he will respond that God started working efficaciously in my life when I first saw (a Christian living the Christian life), heard (a preacher preaching the Gospel), experienced the Word of God in my life (was baptized into Christ). These are all efficacious means of Grace, bringing us into a living relationship with God through Christ. This is salvation.

Signs and Seals

There is a discussion going on over at about signs and seals. One fellow is saying that signs are like sign posts along the way that signify that a city is coming up and if you stay on this road you will soon be at the place you want to be. But he is careful to make sure we understand that the sign is not the thing signified. The sign is not the city. In this illustration this is obviously true.

The other fellow is saying that the sign is like a wedding ring. When you see the sign you know that the wearer is married. But in this case the sign is the thing that makes the thing signified the thing itself. A man is not married if he doesn’t have the wedding ring. This is particularly true when you add the idea of a seal to the mix.

In the first fellow’s case, the seal doesn’t seem to have any meaning apart from its proximity to the word sign. Throughout his whole discussion (you can find it here) he never discusses what a seal is.

A seal, however, is the thing that makes an event a fact. The seal makes an act official. For example, when a letter is written by a king it is not an official letter until he puts his seal to it. The king melts a bit of wax and drips it into a blob on his paper and then presses the official seal into the wax and thus the letter becomes official. In the same way, a wedding is official when the seal of the wedding is put on the finger. Thus the ring is both a sign and a seal of the wedding.

The Westminster Confession of faith (XXVIII, 1) says this about baptism “Baptism is a sacrament of the new testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church; but also, to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life.” Notice that it uses the words sign and seal. It says that baptism is a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, or remission of sins…. The question, then, is which way is the confession using the terms sign and seal?

I can see how a person might take the word sign in either of the ways stated above. A fellow could say that they Westminster folks meant that baptism is a sign pointing to the covenant of grace, ingrafting into Christ, regeneration, remissions of sins, etc. But in what other way could you take the seal part of the words? How can you take seal in any other way than to say that baptism seals you into the covenant of grace, etc.? When you are baptized you are officially in the church of Christ? The stamp is on you. You have been put into Christ.

The most natural way to take this is to say that baptism is like the official seal of the King going into the soft wax. It is a seal of our entrance into the covenant of grace, but it is also the sign of that entrance into the covenant of grace. A sign like the wedding ring, not like the sign post.