It has become routine in October for some Christian schools to send out letters warning parents about the evils of Halloween, and it has become equally routine for me to be asked questions about this matter.
“Halloween” is simply a contraction for All Hallows’ Eve. The word “hallow” means “saint,” in that “hallow” is just an alternative form of the word “holy” (“hallowed be Thy name”). All Saints’ Day is November 1. It is the celebration of the victory of the saints in union with Christ. The observance of various celebrations of All Saints arose in the late 300s, and these were united and fixed on November 1 in the late 700s. The origin of All Saints Day and of All Saints Eve in Mediterranean Christianity had nothing to do with Celtic Druidism or the Church’s fight against Druidism (assuming there ever even was any such thing as Druidism, which is actually a myth concocted in the 19th century by neo-pagans.)
In the First Covenant, the war between God’s people and God’s enemies was fought on the human level against Egyptians, Assyrians, etc. With the coming of the New Covenant, however, we are told that our primary battle is against principalities and powers, against fallen angels who bind the hearts and minds of men in ignorance and fear. We are assured that through faith, prayer, and obedience, the saints will be victorious in our battle against these demonic forces. The Spirit assures us: “The God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly” (Romans 16:20).
The Festival of All Saints reminds us that though Jesus has finished His work, we have not finished ours. He has struck the decisive blow, but we have the privilege of working in the mopping up operation. Thus, century by century the Christian faith has rolled back the demonic realm of ignorance, fear, and superstition. Though things look bad in the Western world today, this work continues to make progress in Asia and Africa and Latin America.
The Biblical day begins in the preceding evening, and thus in the Church calendar, the eve of a day is the actual beginning of the festive day. Christmas Eve is most familiar to us, but there is also the Vigil of Holy Saturday that precedes Easter Morn. Similarly, All Saints’ Eve precedes All Saints’ Day.
The concept, as dramatized in Christian custom, is quite simple: On October 31, the demonic realm tries one last time to achieve victory, but is banished by the joy of the Kingdom.
What is the means by which the demonic realm is vanquished? In a word: mockery. Satan’s great sin (and our great sin) is pride. Thus, to drive Satan from us we ridicule him. This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns and a tail. Nobody thinks the devil really looks like this; the Bible teaches that he is the fallen Arch-Cherub. Rather, the idea is to ridicule him because he has lost the battle with Jesus and he no longer has power over us.
(The tradition of mocking Satan and defeating him through joy and laughter plays a large role in Ray Bradbury’s classic novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes, which is a Halloween novel.)
The gargoyles that were placed on the churches of old had the same meaning. They symbolized the Church ridiculing the enemy. They stick out their tongues and make faces at those who would assault the Church. Gargoyles are not demonic; they are believers ridiculing the defeated demonic army.
Thus, the defeat of evil and of demonic powers is associated with Halloween. For this reason, Martin Luther posted his 95 challenges to the wicked practices of the Church to the bulletin board on the door of the Wittenberg chapel on Halloween. He picked his day with care, and ever since Halloween has also been Reformation Day.
Similarly, on All Hallows’ Eve (Hallow-Even – Hallow-E’en – Halloween), the custom arose of mocking the demonic realm by dressing children in costumes. Because the power of Satan has been broken once and for all, our children can mock him by dressing up like ghosts, goblins, and witches. The fact that we can dress our children this way shows our supreme confidence in the utter defeat of Satan by Jesus Christ – we have NO FEAR!
I don’t have the resources to check the historical origins of all Halloween customs, and doubtless they have varied from time to time and from Christian land to Christian land. “Trick or treat” doubtless originated simply enough: something fun for kids to do. Like anything else, this custom can be perverted, and there have been times when “tricking” involved really mean actions by teenagers and was banned from some localities.
We can hardly object, however, to children collecting candy from friends and neighbors. This might not mean much to us today, because we are so prosperous that we have candy whenever we want, but in earlier generations people were not so well o_, and obtaining some candy or other treats was something special. There is no reason to pour cold water on an innocent custom like this.
Similarly, the jack-o’-lantern’s origins are unknown. Hollowing out a gourd or some other vegetable, carving a face, and putting a lamp inside of it is something that no doubt has occurred quite independently to tens of thousands of ordinary people in hundreds of cultures worldwide over the centuries. Since people lit their homes with candles, decorating the candles and the candle-holders was a routine part of life designed to make the home pretty or interesting. Potatoes, turnips, beets, and any number of other items were used.
Wynn Parks writes of an incident he observed: “An English friend had managed to remove the skin of a tangerine in two intact halves. After carving eyes and nose in one hemisphere and a mouth in the other, he poured cooking oil over the pith sticking up in the lower half and lit the readymade wick. With its upper half on, the tangerine skin formed a miniature jack-o’-lantern. But my friend seemed puzzled that I should call it by that name. `What would I call it? Why a “tangerine head,” I suppose.’” (Parks, “The Head of the Dead,” The World & I, November 1994, p. 270.)
In the New World, people soon learned that pumpkins were admirably suited for this purpose. The jack-o’-lantern is nothing but a decoration; and the leftover pumpkin can be scraped again, roasted, and turned into pies and muffins.
In some cultures, what we call a jack-o’-lantern represented the face of a dead person, whose soul continued to have a presence in the fruit or vegetable used. But this has no particular relevance to Halloween customs. Did your mother tell you, while she carved the pumpkin, that this represented the head of a dead person and with his soul trapped inside? Of course not. Symbols and decorations, like words, mean different things in different cultures, in different languages, and in different periods of history. The only relevant question is what does it mean now, and nowadays it is only a decoration.
And even if some earlier generations did associate the jack-o’-lantern with a soul in a head, so what? They did not take it seriously. It was just part of the joking mockery of heathendom by Christian people.
This is a good place to note that many articles in books, magazines, and encyclopedias are written by secular humanists or even the pop-pagans of the so-called “New Age” movement. (An example is the article by Wynn Parks cited above.) These people actively suppress the Christian associations of historic customs, and try to magnify the pagan associations. They do this to try and make paganism acceptable and to downplay Christianity. Thus, Halloween, Christmas, Easter, etc., are said to have pagan origins. Not true.
Oddly, some fundamentalists have been influenced by these slanted views of history. These fundamentalists do not accept the humanist and pagan rewriting of Western history, American history, and science, but sometimes they do accept the humanist and pagan rewriting of the origins of Halloween and Christmas, the Christmas tree, etc. We can hope that in time these brethren will reexamine these matters as well. We ought not to let the pagans do our thinking for us.
Nowadays, children often dress up as superheroes, and the original Christian meaning of Halloween has been absorbed into popular culture. Also, with the present fad of “designer paganism” in the so-called New Age movement, some Christians are uneasy with dressing their children as spooks. So be it. But we should not forget that originally Halloween was a Christian custom, and there is no solid reason why Christians cannot enjoy it as such even today.
“He who sits in the heavens laughs; Yahweh ridicules them” says Psalm 2. Let us join in His holy laughter, and mock the enemies of Christ on October 31.”
In compliance with Christ’s command (Matt. 28:19), Christians have always practiced baptism with water into the Triune name of God, marking the incorporation of the person baptized into the church as Christ’s Body (I Cor. 12:12-13).
However, widely differing ideas about baptism exist among professing Christians. Some claim that it automatically washes away previous sin; some think that children are regenerated by it.
At the other extreme, there are those who say that baptism does nothing more than symbolize a person’s own profession of faith in God’s cleansing grace.
The former views see divine power inherent in baptism – yet place it at the disposal of the church. The latter view shifts orientation to man’s action and sees God performing nothing through baptism itself.
The Reformed faith disagrees with each of these lines of thought, holding that the perspective of God’s inspired word on baptism is not only contrary to them, but also much clearer than debates over baptism sometimes pretend. So let us ask, what is the meaning of baptism? And what purpose does it serve?
A Hint from Historical Precedent
Many aspects of new Covenant teaching cannot be properly understood apart from their historical background in the Old Covenant. The comment that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” or the fact that the temple veil was torn in two when Jesus died upon the cross are examples. Likewise, the Lord’s Supper celebrated in the New Covenant is to be seen in the light of the Old Covenant’s passover celebration (Luke 21:15-20; I Cor. 5:7-8; 10:16-17; 11:20-29). What Old Covenant precedent might there be for baptism?
Paul answers our question and helps us understand the theological meaning of baptism by pointing us to its historical precedent in Colossians 2:11-12. “In Him you were also circumcised – in putting off of the body of the flesh – not with a circumcision done with hands, but with the circumcision performed by Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism . . ..”
Christians have been circumcised spiritually (not done with hands), and this circumcision has been accomplished by Jesus Christ himself. What is this circumcision? Paul explains immediately: “having been buried with Him in baptism.” Figuratively speaking, Christian baptism is the circumcision performed by Christ. Accordingly, by examining the religious rite of circumcision practiced in the Old Covenant, we can understand the meaning and purpose of baptism in the New Covenant.
1. Like Circumcision, Baptism Shows that We Belong to God as His People.
Circumcision was the mark that someone belonged covenantally to God. It distinguished a person from the unbelieving, Gentile world: “when a stranger sojourns with you and would keep the passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land – for no uncircumcised person shall eat of it” (Ex. 12:48).
Likewise, baptism is the sign which distinguishes God’s people from the rebellious world today. The words of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) require Christ’s disciples to be differentiated from the world by baptism. It is the mark of conversion to Christianity. Those who “received his word” were baptized and added to the church (Acts 2:41). Setting us apart from a world dead in sin, baptism summons us to walk in “newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).
2. Like Circumcision, Baptism Symbolizes Purification from Defilement.
Man’s sinful condition is called “the uncircumcision of your flesh” by Paul (Col. 2:13). Circumcision symbolized a cutting back and removal of that sinful nature. Thus circumcision was figuratively applied to the lips (Ex. 6:12, 30) and especially the heart (Jer. 4:4). The ancient external rite was literally applied to the male genital organ as an indication that everyone comes into this world at birth as sinfully unclean and unacceptable in God’s sight. There can be no “natural” hope for man’s salvation. He must rely solely on the supernatural, gracious work of God in his behalf.
Likewise, baptism points to the need for the “remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). It assumes our spiritually dirty condition before God. Thus Ananias said to Paul after his conversion, “arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling upon His name” (Acts 22:16). Baptism teaches us that, as filthy in the sight of God, our only hope is in His cleansing grace (cf. I John 1:9).
3. Accordingly, Like Circumcision, Baptism Points to Righteousness Imputed by Faith.
Paul tells us in Romans 4:11 that Abraham “received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while he was in uncircumcision, that he might become the father of all them that believe . . . that righteousness be imputed unto them.” Abraham’s circumcision was God’s testimony in Abraham’s flesh that righteousness cannot be merited by man’s natural efforts – that it must be graciously imputed to the helpless sinner. Abraham was reckoned righteous, therefore, only by trusting in God’s promise and provision – by faith.
This is also the divine testimony in baptism. Those who wish to be justified in the sight of God must “repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins”; those who do so are believers in God’s promise (Acts 2:38-44). “Having believed in God” for promised salvation, the Philippian jailer “was baptized” (Acts 16:30-34). Like Abraham’s circumcision, the jailer’s baptism was a divine sign of justification (righteousness, salvation) by faith.
We must note well that the signs of the covenant, whether circumcision or baptism, – being God’s signs and ordained by Him – are God’s testimony to God’s gracious work of salvation. They declare the objective truth that justification comes only by faith in God’s promise. Circumcision and baptism are not an individual’s personal, subjective testimony to having saving faith for himself. God Himself commanded that circumcision be applied to those whom He perfectly well knew would not have saving faith in Him (e.g., Ishmael in Gen. 17:18-27).
Likewise, in plenty of instances hypocrites who are not true believers have been baptized (cf. Heb. 6:2-6; e.g., Simon Magus in Acts 8:13, 20-23). Even in such cases the covenantal sign was not invalidated; its divine testimony remained true – objectively declaring by circumcision or baptism that defiled sinners (Ishmael, Simon Magus) need God’s gracious cleansing, that justification can come only by faith in His promise.
4. Most Comprehensively then, Like Circumcision, Baptism Signifies Covenantal Union and communion with God.
God said to Abraham “This is My covenant between Me and you . . . every male among you shall be circumcised” (Gen. 17:10), and the substance of God’s covenant promise to Abraham was “to be a God unto you and unto your seed after you” (v. 7). Circumcision placed Abraham and his children in a covenantal relation with God that the unbelieving world did not enjoy. It marked them out as enjoying God’s saving promise in this world – as those about whom God could say “you alone have I known of all the families of the earth” (Amos 3:2). Because of this gracious covenant, Abraham’s children had communion with God. They assembled in the very presence of God. (Ex. 26:22; 29:42-43).
Similarly, Paul says that those who receive the sign of baptism have been “baptized into Christ Jesus” and are “united with Him” (Rom. 6:3, 5). They enjoy covenantal communion with the Savior as His people (e.g., Rev. 3:20), being “by one spirit baptized into one Body” (I Cor. 12:13) – a relationship which cannot be claimed by those in the unbelieving world. God’s people today assemble together in the very presence of God, His angels, and Jesus the mediator of the New Covenant (Heb. 12:22-24).
Here we must take note again of a common misunderstanding of circumcision and baptism, one which arises from a more fundamental, underlying misconception of what it means to have covenantal, underlying misconception of what it means to have covenantal union and communion with the Lord. To be covenantally united with God, although intended by God to bring favor and blessing to His chosen people, carries as well the threat of judgment and curse. God’s covenants involve blessing and cursing, depending upon whether one is a covenant-keeper or a covenant-breaker.
We see this two-sided character of the covenant in both the Old Covenant (e.g., Deut. 27-28; Josh. 8:34) as well as the New (e.g., I Cor. 11:27-32; Heb. 6:4-8). It was just because Israel alone enjoyed God’s loving covenant that the nation had to be judged for its sins (Amos 3:2). Likewise, if the Laodicean church will not repent, it must be rejected (Rev. 3:16).
To be in covenant with God does not automatically imply eternal salvation – certainly not for covenant-breakers. Thus “they are not all Israel who are of Israel” (Rom. 9:6), and even in the New Covenant not all who publicly profess Jesus as “Lord” are savingly known by Him (Matt. 7:21-23). So then, the signs of circumcision and baptism definitely bring their recipients into covenant with God (and what they signify is intended as blessing), but they are not thereby personal guarantees of salvation, except for covenant-keepers. The covenant signs can also bring their recipients under God’s dreadful judgment.
5. Like Circumcision, Baptism is Designed to be Applied to Believers and Their Households.
It is evident from Genesis 17:7-14 that God designed the sign of the covenant to be applied, not only to the believing adult Abraham, but also to his seed, indeed his entire household – “every male among you,” whether born in the house, purchased as a slave, Jewish or Gentile. All those who were part of Abraham’s house were covenantally consecrated (or “holy”) to God in virtue of their connection with Abraham the believer. Accordingly, the Jews circumcised their sons, even as children (on the eighth day). Moreover, since Abraham was to be the believing “father of many nations,” not simply of the Jews (Gen. 17:4-6; 12;3), the covenant promise – and its sign of circumcision – were for converted Gentiles as well (Ex. 12:48-49; cf. Gal. 3:7).
Since baptism is the New Covenant equivalent of circumcision, and since circumcision taught that the children of believers are included under God’s covenant, and since our covenant-keeping God does not change His principles (Ps. 89:34; Matt. 4:4; 5:18; Rom. 15:4; Jas. 1:17), we would fully expect that baptism should be applied – as was circumcision – to believers and their seed or households. This theological inference is inescapable. Further, it is precisely what we find taught in the New Covenant scriptures themselves.
On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached the risen Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies and covenants. Declaring God’s good news to the Jews – whose self-conception for centuries had been in terms of the Abrahamic covenant (cf. John 8:33, 39) – Peter called on his audience to repent and be baptized. And Peter conspicuously couched his invitation in the structure of God’s promise to Abraham, which we saw above: “For the promise is to you [as believers] and to your children [your seed], and to all that are afar off [the Gentiles]” (Acts 2:39).
The children of believers are to be baptized, then, and addressed as members of the covenant community, the church(e.g., Eph. 1;1; 6:1); Jesus said, “to such [infants] belongs the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:15-16). Paul teaches us that, just like the case of the Old Covenant believer Abraham, the entire household of a New covenant believer is covenantally consecrated (“holy”) to the Lord (I Cor. 7:14). Thus when Lydia became a believer, not only was she herself baptized, but “also her household” (Acts 16:14-15) – as was the “household of Stephannas” (I Cor. 1:16).
The Mode of Baptism Reflects Its Theological Meaning
Our preceding discussion has illustrated how the meaning of Christian baptism corresponds to that of Old Covenant circumcision. Baptism is, for believers and their households, a sign of being in covenantal communion with God as His people (distinguished from the world), an objective divine testimony to the fact that sinners need cleansing from defilement and can be justified only by faith in God’s gracious promise and work. The Biblical mode of baptism – sprinkling or pouring – symbolically fits this message.
In the Old Testament God foreshadowed the redemptive work of Christ through various rites involving the sprinkling of blood. Accordingly, Hebrews 9:10 speaks of certain ceremonial rites connected with the Old Covenant tabernacle – such as sprinkling the blood of bulls (v. 13; cf. Num. 19:17-18), sprinkling the book and people with blood (v. 19; cf. Ex. 24:6, 8), and sprinkling the tabernacles and its vessels with blood (v. 21; cf. Lev. 8:19; 16:14). And Hebrews 9:10 calls these external regulations which anticipated the redeeming work of the Savior “various baptisms [washings] imposed until a time of reformation.”
The New Covenant speaks of our salvation as the “sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:2; cf. Heb. 12:24). And this redemptive work is aligned with our Christian baptism: “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and having our body washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22).
Moreover, in the Old Covenant scriptures God promised the coming of the regenerating Holy Spirit in terms of pouring and sprinkling: “I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh” (Joel 2:28-29). “I will sprinkle clean water on you . . . I will give you a new heart . . . I will put My Spirit within you to walk in My statutes” (Ezek. 36:25-28).
Accordingly the New Testament speaks of our salvation in terms of the “pouring out” of the Holy spirit: “Being therefore exalted to the right hand of God and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you see and hear” (Acts 2:33; cf. 10: 44-45; 11:15-16). And this redemptive act is clearly called baptism by Jesus: “John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence” (Acts 1:5; cf. Matt. 3:11; Acts 11:16; I Cor. 12:13).
Baptism by sprinkling or pouring, then, points to God’s covenant wherein helpless, polluted sinners are sprinkled clean by the redemptive blood of Jesus Christ and renewed by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. In harmony with what we have seen previously, baptism is a testimony to salvation by God’s initiative and promise, anticipated in the Old Covenant and accomplished through the New Covenant work of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
Efficacy of the Sacraments
Baptists take a minimalist, subjective view of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, seeing them merely as “ordinances” (not “sacraments”) which are nothing more than a memorial to the work of Christ, a testimony to the gospel truth and visible sign of a person’s (subjective) faith in it. By contrast the word of God presents the sacraments as a true “means of grace” which, through the efficacious work of the Holy spirit, convey a blessing to believing recipients – those who keep God’s covenant. Notice how Paul speaks of the sacrament: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?” (I Cor. 10:160. The sacrament actually does something in this case blessing covenant-keepers; but Paul also realized that the sacrament carries a corresponding threat of curse for unworthy partakers (I Cor. 11:29).
Far from being superfluous, then, the sacraments intend to convey a distinct blessing beyond that provided by the word alone. In addition to being a sign of the covenant of grace, they also function as a confirmatory seal of it. Notice what Paul says: “And he [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised” (Rom. 4:11).
The sacrament confirms or authenticates (“seals”) that which it points to (“signifies”). It is God’s reassurance to us that sinners are acceptable to Him by means of faith in His promise – parallel to the oath which God added to His word of promise to Abraham (cf. Heb. 6:13-19). This reassurance is provided, of course, only for those who truly keep God’s covenant in faith.
At the other extreme from Baptistic conceptions, there are maximalist views of the sacraments. Roman Catholicism sees the sacraments as necessary – not simply by God’s precept and as conveying the distinct blessing of sealing God’s promise, but as the very means of salvation. The elements of the sacraments are thought to be inherently efficacious in virtue of the church being the depository and dispensary of God’s grace. Thus baptism works automatically to wash away previous sins and will bring its recipient salvation (provided such is not “blocked by mortal sin”). Lutheranism says that, when they are properly applied, the sacraments are in themselves efficacious to those who are susceptible to their blessing: this susceptibility amounts to faith in adults, but simple nonresistance in infants. Accordingly, baptism automatically regenerates infants.
Quite opposite of these ideas, the word of God teaches us that the saving grace signified by the sacraments exists prior to them and is not produced by them. That is, the saving benefit of the sacraments is available apart from them – thus they are not necessary for salvation. Moreover, the efficacy of the sacraments resides in the presence and work of the Holy Spirit (not in the church or the elements or their proper administration). It is through His discriminating, divine agency that the sacraments accomplish their work (either blessing or cursing). Accordingly, they do not bless unworthy recipients.
When Peter speaks of baptism saving us, he immediately explains: “not the washing away of bodily pollution [external surface dirt], but the appeal made to God by a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 3:21). Without a good conscience through Christ’’ saving work, the external rite brings no saving blessing.
The sacrament brings blessing (rather than curse) when an inward, spiritual condition matches the symbolism of the outward act. As Paul said: “neither is that circumcision which is outward, in the flesh. But . . . circumcision is that of the heart, by the Spirit, not the letter – whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Rom. 2:28-29).
Conclusion: Baptism’s Testimony and Assurance
Given an understanding of the Biblical meaning and purpose of baptism, we can draw of few significant conclusions, things that should come to mind at the celebration of baptism (whether our own or that of others).
1. Baptism issues an evangelistic call. Like circumcision, it testifies that we are all born in sin and, as such, are unclean and unacceptable in the sight of God. Baptism also points to the mercy of God which washes sinners of their pollution and makes them graciously acceptable to Him through the sprinkling of Christ’s blood and regenerating outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Our only hope is in God’s gracious promise of redemption, received by faith. So baptism summons unbelievers to trust in the Savior.
2. Baptism issues a sanctifying call. Those who are baptized need to demonstrate that they are covenant-keepers, those who have living faith in the Savior and seek to serve Him with their lives. As with circumcision, this is true of adults just as much as with children! Baptism conveys blessing only to the faithful, whenever and wherever their baptism was administered. It must not be viewed as a magical rite by which to manipulate God. It only works to bring saving blessing when the recipient of the baptism responds to God’s claim upon his/her life with covenant-keeping faith and obedience.
3. Baptism issues a call to covenant faithfulness. If you are a believer, have you and your children been baptized? The signs of God’s covenant are not optional, as though subject to our own imagined meaning or imagined value. To despise those signs is in itself to despise God’s very covenant (cf. Gen. 17:10, 14; Ex. 4:24-26; John 6:53; Luke 22:20; I Cor. 10:16; 11:27). You need for yourself and your household to affirm and enjoy the privilege of standing in a covenantal relationship with God through baptism. He is the Lord of your family and claims your children as His own. You likewise need to live in every area of your life (family, vocation, finances, education, social relationships, recreations, art, politics, etc.) as someone who is under the mark of God’s covenant and thereby responsible to obey the Lord at every point. Our lives are completely His.
4. Baptism powerfully communicates comfort to the faithful. Whether baptized as an adult convert or as a helpless child, the rite of baptism offers reassurance (whether at the time of administration or later) that God is a forgiving God and will indeed prove true to His promises to those who keep His covenant. There is in baptism not only a visual reinforcement of the gospel message, but more importantly a confirming (sealing) inward work of the Holy Spirit which strengthens our hearts in the condemning presence of sin, authenticating the unfailing promise of salvation from our covenant Lord. It is thereby truly a means of grace for us.
The following is an article written by Dr. Bob Gonzales, a professor at The Reformed Baptist Seminary. I thought it demonstrated scriptural wisdom very clearly as well as a Presuppositional method of apologetics. As I said, I wrote none of the following article, all credit goes to Dr. Gonzales.
“One of the marks of a Christian is a desire to share the good news of the life-transforming gospel with others. In the words of the apostles, “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). But what if a friend, fellow worker, schoolmate, or family member asks us to desist? Does there come a time when we should refrain from speaking to a person about Jesus and Christianity?
Thanks, But No Thanks
A few years ago, I sent John Piper’s booklet The Passion of Christ: Fifty Reasons Why He Came to Die to several close friends and relatives. To my knowledge, most of them were not Christians. I had already shared the gospel with some. With others I had not–at least not in a more comprehensive way. I wanted to be able to face Jesus on Judgment Day with the knowledge that I had attempted to share the gospel with those who were close to me.
Disappointingly, one couple replied with a letter and some materials that made it clear they rejected Christianity, affirmed materialistic evolution, and wished me to relinquish my attempts at trying to convert them. They were polite. But they were also resolute. They didn’t believe in God, and they preferred that I give up any attempt in persuading them otherwise.
A Time to Keep Silence
According to Scripture, there is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Eccl 3:7). I believe gospel witness falls under the umbrella of this general axiom. All Christians have a responsibility (according to their level of maturity, gift, and opportunity) to propagate the good news about Jesus (Matt 5:13-16; Acts 8:1-4; 1 Thess 1:6-9; 1 Pet 3:15).1 Moreover, we should be prudent, patient, and persevering in our gospel witness (Prov 26:4-5; Matt 10:16; 1 Cor 3:6-7; 1 Tim 1:12-16; 2 Tim 2:24-25; 1 Pet 3:9). Nevertheless, there comes a time when we should refrain from speaking
The New Testament teaches by principle and precedent that Christians should temporarily or, in some cases, indefinitely terminate their explicit communication of the gospel with certain individuals when those individuals resolutely reject the truth and clearly request that your evangelistic efforts stop. Jesus told his disciples to move on when a person or group of people firmly rejected their gospel witness and no longer welcomed them (Matt 10:11-14; cf. Acts 13:46). Elsewhere he repeated the directive in metaphorical terms: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces” (Matt 7:6). Jesus himself continued to share the gospel with antagonists up to a point–then he was silent (Matt 26:63; Mark 14:61).
One Last Time
So I judged it was time to stop sharing the gospel with this couple–at least overtly. I also thought it wise and appropriate to communicate my intent with kindness and tact. However, since this would be my last opportunity to address with them a topic of such eternal magnitude, I decided to accompany the promise to cease with a final gospel challenge. Below is the letter I sent to them, edited to protect their identity. (Those familiar with Christian apologetics will note my “presuppositional” approach.)
Dear ______ and ______,
I regret that a busy schedule has forced me to put off a response to your letter. But it has remained on my list of “things-to-do” for some time, and the opportunity has finally come!
First of all, thank you both for your love and concern. I am doing much better now, though to some degree I must live with a measure of chronic pain and fatigue. But compared with many who suffer in this world, my bodily affliction is relatively light. I thank God for the health I do enjoy and which I do not deserve. Secondly, thank you for the nice map. Our family is big on maps, and this one has made a nice addition to our collection. Thirdly, I want thank you for responding to my earlier request that you consider the truth and claims of Christianity. The National Geographic article arguing for evolution, the magazine article entitled, “How to Think About the Mind,” and the comments in your letter make it clear that you have chosen to believe a materialistic-evolutionary view of reality rather than a Christian view of reality. As a Christian, I still love you and respect your freedom (as individuals made in the image of God) to choose your own beliefs. I would, however, indulge one last time upon your patience and goodwill. Let me assure you that I will never bring up the Christian faith or gospel with you again unless you ask me to. But I would like to leave you with a couple of final thoughts.
You may not realize this, but I am a converted evolutionist. As a young man, I was taught the theory of evolution as fact, and I eventually embraced it as such. However, later in life I was introduced to the Christian worldview, which contradicted evolution. But it was not merely the teachings of Scripture that finally convinced me evolution was untenable. I have rejected evolution on both scientific andphilosophical grounds as well. And as the National Geographic article you sent suggested, I am not alone: “nearly half the American populace prefers to believe that Charles Darwin was wrong where it mattered most” (p. 6). Of course, the author of this article, a rather zealous evolutionist, blames “Scriptural literalism” and widespread “ignorance.” But another cause, which he overlooked (?) is a growing rejection of evolution among well-educated and scientifically-minded people. Either the author of this article is himself ignorant of the growing body scientific and philosophical literature that exposes the fallacies of evolution, or he prefers to win an argument by ignoring his opponents. A much more honest and humble approach is exemplified by Dr. W. R. Thompson—himself an evolutionist—in his preface to a reprint of Darwin’s Origin of Species:
As we know, there is a great divergence of opinion among biologists, not only about the causes of evolution but even about the actual process. This divergence exists because the evidence is unsatisfactory and does not permit any certain conclusion. It is therefore right and proper to draw the attention of the non-scientific public to the disagreements about evolution. But some recent remarks of evolutionists show that they think this unreasonable. This situation, where men rally to the defense of a doctrine they are unable to define scientifically, much less demonstrate with scientific rigor, attempting to maintain its credit with the public by the suppression of criticism and the elimination of difficulties, is abnormal and undesirable in science (emphasis mine; New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1956).
Because I know you both like science and because I assume you want to follow the truth wherever it leads, I’m sending you two books, which seriously undermine the so-called scientific or philosophical basis for the theory of evolution. Let me quickly point out that neither of these books has been written by a pastor or theologian. The first book, Darwin’s Black Box (The Free Press, 2003), has been written by Michael Behe, professor of Biochemistry at Lehigh University. This book has proved so persuasive that a leading atheist has recently become a theist. (See the enclosed ABC News article, “Famous Atheist Now Believes in God.”) The second book, Darwin on Trial (Intervarsity Press, 1993), has been written by a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley. Let me assure you there are many more such books, but I have found these quite helpful and enlightening. I am also sending you a taped debate between an evolutionist and Christian theologian-philosopher entitled, “The Great Debate: Does God Exist?” The books and the debate will demonstrate that Christianity does not require one to put his head in the sand. Please accept them as a gift.
But perhaps you feel skeptical. After all, according to the article you sent there are still a number of Americans today—at least 12 percent—who believe “that humans evolved from other life-forms without any involvement of a god” (p. 6). We know that religions can sometimes hold on to and perpetuate bad dogma. But is it possible that educated people could hold on to and perpetuate bad “science”? Absolutely! Take, for example, the medical practice of “blood-letting,” which killed our first president. The medical establishment of George Washington’s day defended and practiced this deadly “remedy” as sciencedespite the total lack of evidence for its effectiveness. (Even the Bible cannot be blamed for this superstitious practice since, according to Scripture, “the life of the flesh is in the blood” [Lev. 17:11, 14]!)
But I believe there is another reason, besides bad “science,” for the tenacious insistence and perpetuation of evolution. I would suggest that many people prefer to retain evolution—despite the lack of realevidence—because it justifies living life apart from God and apart from any absolute standards of morality. In your letter, you assert that “almost all the battles and wars [of world history] are over religion.” I won’t deny that religion has often had some part to play in wars. But I would point out that atheistic evolutionism as a view of reality and ethics has also had a part to play. Indeed, it was Charles Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” that moved Hitler to exterminate so many Jews as inferior specimens of the human race. Of course, if I were an evolutionist, I could not condemn Hitler or Nazi Germany for the Holocaust. After all, as the Harvard professor in the article you sent me argued, what many of us would call “murderous,” “hateful,” “depraved,” and “evil,” was in reality nothing more than “the activity of the brain.” If I were an evolutionist, I would have to chalk up Hitler’s “atrocities” to overcharged neurons orchemical imbalances in the brain!
I am in no way implying that you, ______ and ______, would excuse Hitler’s actions, any more than I would excuse atrocities committed in the name of religion. But I would ask you to consider this: how does materialistic evolutionism provide you with a basis to judge the rightness or wrongness of another man’s beliefs or actions? In reality, evolution provides you with no basis of ethics, which is another strike against it. You have to assume a worldview in which there are absolute standards of right and wrong—a worldview in which human beings have intrinsic worth and therefore should be “respected” because they’re not just a sophisticated blob of molecules!
I know you know this in your heart of hearts. You have been created in the image of God with a moral faculty called “conscience,” and you cannot escape the nagging reality of human value, human sin, and human accountability to the Lord of all creation. At least that’s my view of things. In any event, I don’t want to try your patience and goodwill. I suppose you wish I would simply keep my “theory” of Christianity to myself, just as you keep your “theory” of evolution to yourself. If you insist, I will comply with your wish. But I confess it’s not as easy for me as it is for you. Once again, look at our “theories” as views of reality. Imagine there’s a building filled with people and smoke rising from the top. Your “theory” says, “The smoke’s just part of the building. It’s normal. Nothing to worry about.” My “theory” says, “There’s a deadly fire and people’s lives are in danger.” My theory compels me to “meddle” in others’ business and warn him of perceived peril. Your theory, on the other hand, allows you to mind your business and leave others alone. Of course, this illustration does not by itself prove or disproveeither “theory.” But it does account for the reason why Christians, like your two sisters, ______ and ______, find it difficult not to share their views with you.
In closing, let me reiterate my love and respect. At one level, I genuinely view you both as “good people.” That is, you have many admirable qualities and have done many admirable things. Yet, at another level, I view you both, as I view my own self and all other men, as sinners who have rebelled against their Creator and who are in need of a Savior. If you are ever interested in learning more about that Savior—Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God—I’d be delighted to tell you! Otherwise, from this point forward I will keep my Christianity to myself until you ask. And whether or not you ever want to talk about religion, I still hope to see you again.
With sincerity and love,
It’s been over seven years since I wrote that letter. This couple has remained very friendly and generous toward me. I love them. I hope they’ll change their mind about the gospel before they die. But until they give me the “green light,” I’ll try to live a life that adorns the gospel I believe and keep praying for God to grant them a change of heart.
The original can be found here: http://drbobgonzales.com/2012/a-time-to-be-silent-when-and-how-to-stop-sharing-the-gospel/
About a week ago, some controversy stirred in the reformed world(nothing new there) on the delicate issue of baptism. Baptism is always a topic of contention, especially amoungst those who share a reformed soteriology and a covenental view of the Bible. The debates between infant baptizing Presbyterians and believers only Baptists are notorious, and seemingly endless. Some on both sides tend to take a more hard line, while others take a more ecumenical position. Last week on The Gospel Coalition website, there was a discussion between the two more adamant sides of the debate. It was not the typical “Baptist V.S. Presbyterian” debate on the objects and mode of Baptism. In fact, it was not a debate at all. It was more like a respective “drawing the line in the sand”. Each side wrote an article detailing why one must hold to there viewpoint if they wish to be apart of the respective Church.
James Hamilton wrote from the Baptist perspective in an article called “Baptism and Church Membership: Sometimes Obedience Results in Painful Separations.” Michael Horton wrote from the Presbyterian/Reformed perspective in an article called “Membership Requires Affirmation of Infant Baptism: A Padeobaptist Response.” I will provide a link to both articles at the end of the post.
Briefly, I want to go over what the articles say and then provide some quick thoughts. Nothing extensive, just food for thought. You should keep in mind, however, that I am a Presbyterian, I attend a PCA church and a firmly convinced on the subject of Infant Baptism.
First, the article from the Baptist perspective by James Hamilton. James Hamilton is a professor of Biblical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has written numerous books that include a Biblical Theology around the topic of God’s Glory in salvation through judgement, and a commentary on the book of Revelation. I have never read any of his books, however I have seen him participate in John Piper’s “Evening of Eschatology”; in which he represented Historic Premillennialism. Even though I don’t agree with his position, I think he performed the best by far and was very impressive. So James Hamilton is a man I respect, he is up and coming in the Reformed Baptist world (he is still rather young).
In the article, rather than dwelling soley on an abstract discussion on the value of Baptismal Theology as it relates to Church Membership, Hamilton starts off with a real world example to demonstrate the practical nature of this doctrine ; “This question hurts. It’s personal. Let me briefly explain. A great family with a quiver full of kids began to visit our church—wonderful people with exemplary kids older than and near the ages of my own. Everyone, not least yours truly, was encouraged and eager to spend time with them. You can imagine how much we wanted to have them join our church, and, by God’s grace, they wanted to do so.” He goes on to say, “The only problem was that they were convinced Presbyterians.” Why would this pose a problem for joining a Baptist Church? Hamilton explains: ” If someone is not repenting of all known sin, trusting Christ for salvation, and submitting to all his commands and teaching, we don’t welcome him or her into church membership. Since we view baptism as a matter of obedience, we understand unbaptized people to be disobedient on this point.” Certainly there was no doubt, insofar as can be seen, that this Godly family was repenting of all known sin and trusting in Christ for salvation by faith alone. But according to the Baptist view, this family was not submitting to all of Christ’s commands. In fact, they were not even submitting the most basic one, Baptism; sense from a Baptist perspective the family had never actually been Baptized.As Hamilton put’s it: “Our Presbyterian friends believe they have been baptized, but here the definition of baptism comes into play. As our statement of faith indicates, we are convinced that baptism is the immersion of a believer in water.”
Hamilton, anticipating the objection that this should not be a cause of division, says , “John Bunyan agreed that baptism is the immersion of a believer in water but felt that he did not have the right to deny church membership to someone who gave evidence of regeneration and believed he had been baptized. William Kiffin’s response was that he did not have the right to disregard, and thereby overrule, a command of Jesus. As baptists we’re not denying that paedobaptists have a right to their own perspective, we are simply maintaining the integrity of our own convictions. Our consciences will not permit us to welcome into membership and communion those who have not obeyed Jesus at the point of baptism.”
Hamilton proceeds to point out of the obvious, if Baptism really is nothing to divide over, then why did Baptists ever separate? He says, “This is the whole reason there are Baptist churches at all. This is why baptists don’t commune with Presbyterians…If this issue were not big enough to divide over, to deny membership over, then why did the baptists ever separate from the presbyterians?”
Hamilton concludes by saying that unity has to be based on the truth of Scriptures, and for Baptists that means obeying Jesus in Believers only Baptism.
Secondly, the article from the Presbyterian perspective by Michael Horton. Michael Horton is a professor of systematic theology and apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in California, he is one of the most prolific authors today and biggest defenders of the Reformed Faith. Some of his many books include a Systematic Theology, 5 books on Covenant Theology, several books on American Christianity, the Christian Life, The Law of God and Calvinism. He is one of my favorite theologians and one the the biggest impacts on my life, in influencing my theology.
Baptism is often viewed as secondary to views to Perseverance of the Saints or The extent of the Atonement. However one does not go before the Church and get a “Perseverance of the Saints”, one does however go before the Church to be Baptized. Differences on Baptism directly affect our actions sense Baptism is a actual event that takes places rather than just a doctrine. Horton makes this point by saying ” It’s often said that baptism is a secondary issue. Traditionally, both sides in the debate have wrestled over whether they can even accept each other’s profession of faith as valid for membership. That’s hardly secondary.”
The issue becomes very frustrating when one contemplates a Baptist and a Presbyterian that agree on EVERYTHING EXCEPT Infant Baptism, but would be unable to determine what should happen in a Church and remain in the same fellowship. Horton says on this matter, “However, Baptists and paedobaptists are stuck. If our conscience is bound by Scripture, then we can hardly consider as indifferent something Christ’ ordained as essential in the Great Commission. So I respect Baptist brothers who would not admit me into membership or to the Lord’s Table. They are following what they believe Scripture to teach in this matter and for that submissiveness I respect them.”
Horton goes on to give this description, “Historically, Reformed and Presbyterian churches have required professing members and their children to be baptized. In the former, arising from Continental Reformed sources, all church members confess the Three Forms of Unity (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, Canons of Dort) as the faithful summary of Scripture. What this means is that in Reformed churches historically, only those who affirmed the inclusion of children in covenant baptism could be members. Especially in the U.S., Presbyterian churches came to require only officers to subscribe the Westminster Standards. In Presbyterian churches, it has meant that all of the children of members should be baptized. What to do if they’re not is a matter of some debate and variation.” There is some difference between what typically happens in Churches coming out of the Dutch Reformed tradition (typically called Reformed Churches) and those coming out of the Scottish and English Presbyterian tradition (typically called Presbyterian or Reformed Presbyterian). Reformed Churches that subscribe to the 3 forms of unity, such as The United Reformed Church of North America, require there members to affirm EVERYTHING in the confession’s. While Presbyterians such as The Presbyterian Church of America (of which I am a member) and The Orthodox Presbyterian Church simply require a profession of faith and reliance on sovereign Grace and Mercy for salvation alone for membership, but not necessarily affirming all the beliefs in the Church Confession. So a baptist could join a Presbyterian Church, but not one from the Dutch Reformed tradition.
Horton goes on to say that he affirms what The Westminster Confession says, that it is a great sin to neglect Baptism of Children. If it is a great sin to not Baptize Children, then Baptists in the congregation would be subject to Church discipline for not giving there Children for Baptism. Horton finishes up his article by reiterating the situation. Baptists and Prebyterians, though they agree in most cases in a great many things, simply do not agree on the way to do Baptism. Baptists do not recognize Presbyterian baptisms, while Presbyterians think Baptists are sinfully withholding Baptisms to there children. They are at a tragic impasse.
Now that I have given an overview of what’s in the article, I’ll give a few of my thoughts.
Over the last 20 years, there has been an unprecedented renaissance among Reformed Baptists, Calvinism has grown dramatically in Baptist churches, and there has also been a great deal of cooperation between Reformed Baptists and Reformed Presbyterians in groups like The Gospel Coalition, and The Alliance of Confession Evangelicals. In many ways, Reformed Baptists and Presbyterians make up one Reformed family. They speak at each others conferences, write the forward’s for each others books, and work together in a variety of ways. But despite all this doctrinal agreement, the issue of Baptism (and the differences on the Covenant that come with it) keep them divided. I can’t speak for the Baptist Church, they are going to do what they think is right. Many, like James Hamilton, will insist that all members must be Baptized in the Baptist sense of the word. Others, like John Piper and John Bunyan of old, have held that they should not deny membership to those who think they have been baptized. John Piper, when speaking on this issue, noted that to him it would be absurd to say Godly men like John Calvin, R.C. Sproul and Ligon Duncan could not be members of his Church. But I can only speak for myself, being a Presbyterian. There have been many Godly Baptists that have had a huge theological impact on my life, most of all John Piper, who’s impact on my life could hardly be overstated. In addition to others such as Steve Lawson, Al Molher and Paul Washer; and Reformed Baptists of old such as Charles Spurgeon, John Bunyan and John Gill. Not to mention all the Reformed Baptists friends I have, more than even Presbyterian friends.
But despite all the affinity and unity, as the articles show, the impasse remains. Some would lament this as a silly doctrinal novelty, dividing over a silly issue and a man made denomination. But what would you have them do? Should Baptists and Presbyterians forget what they believe and just be quiet? and if so which group? Or, perhaps, we could go back to the Pre-Denomination period where we killed each other instead of simply going separate ways in different denominations. As for the issue of allowing Baptists to join Presbyterian Churches, I clearly understand what Horton says, How can somebody be in our Church and not have there Children Baptized? But equally it begs the question how we can require such doctrinal purity to be a member. In the end I believe I favor the Practice of the PCA, but I would say one must have his Children Baptized if he is a member in a Presbyterian Church.
In the last analysis, as painful and heartbreaking it is, despite all the doctrinal affinity, it seems separation must happen. Baptists and Presbyterians cannot allow there conscious to be violated on this subject of Baptism. Two views of Baptism cannot be accommodated within the same congregation. Despite the demoinational separations, Baptists and Presbyterians should continue to work together to forward the cause of the Gospel through the various para church organization, and to fight against the enemy’s of the Gospel, like they have done so well the past 10 years.
In conclusion, we can only look forward to the day when our sinfully clouded views of Scripture will be swept away, and we will all dwell, all the redeemed Children of God, in perfect fellowship with Christ and each other, Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, and all those redeemed by Grace alone though Faith alone in Christ alone, in the New Heavens and New Earth. Where there will be no more sin, no more death, and no more division. Only perfect unity in fellowship with our triune God. Then Baptists and Presbyterians alike will exclaim with a Loud voice:
““Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
““To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
James Hamilton’s Article: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/03/04/baptism-and-church-membership/
Orthodox, Unorthodox, and Heresy.
These are terms that we hear thrown out a lot today, especially heresy. But what do they mean exactly, specifically from a Reformed perspective?
If you were to go to dictionary.com you would see orthodoxy defined as “sound or correct in opinion or doctrine, especially theological or religious doctrine” and “conforming to the Christian faith as represented in the creeds of the early church.”
Unorthodox is defined thus, “not conforming to rules, traditions, or modes of conduct, as of a doctrine, religion or philosophy; not orthodox.”
The “H” word, Heresy, has this definition: “opinion or doctrine at variance with the orthodox or accepted doctrine, especially of a church or religious system”, and “any belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs, customs, etc.”
I want to suggest a more precise and practical theological definition so that we can classify theological beliefs in a more coherent manner. I suggest the following definitions:
Heresy: A belief that is so destructive and contrary to the Gospel, that to hold to it annihilates the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, and is indeed “another gospel.”
Unorthodox: A belief that does severe damage to the Gospel and cause of Christ.
Orthodox: The scope of beliefs that are in accord with the Gospel of Jesus Christ; the beliefs that are necessary for the Gospel to be coherent .
First, let’s take a look at Orthodox. By way of introduction, I don’t mean “Eastern Orthodoxy, Greek Orthodoxy or Russian Orthodoxy”. I mean orthodox as defined above. But for the above definition to be valid, we have to ask ourselves, what are the necessary beliefs for the Gospel to coherently make sense? In other words, what does one have to believe to be Orthodox? I will suggest 7 basic things:
1. A proper view of God. Namely, accepting the Biblical God, The Holy Trinity. Father, Son and Spirit. The doctrine of The Trinity was hammered out in great detail in the Apostles and Nicene creeds in the early Church, which is where a proper view of this subject may be found. But to be orthodox, it is essential one accepts the Biblical picture of God. Namely one eternal God consisting of 3 eternal persons, Father Son and Spirit. For a precise definition I would suggest you to go the Nicene Creed or Westminster Confession Chapter 2 on the Trinity. In addition to accepting his other attributes, such as his sovereignty, eternal nature and righteousness, omniscience, omnipresence etc.
2. A proper view of Christ. The doctrine of Christ was also hammered out in great detail by the early Church. Namely, that which is exposed in the Chalcedonian creed. That God the Son the second person of the Trinity, took on a human nature, Jesus Christ. That Jesus Christ was fully God and fully Man, in one person. That he lived a sinless life to offer himself as a sacrifice for the sins of his people. A proper view of Christ is essential for a proper view of The Gospel.
3. A proper view of the Scriptures. Without the scriptures, we would know nothing of redemption. We would be without hope and without God in the world. Essential to Christian Orthodoxy is the trust in God’s word in the Scriptures, that we believe the scriptures to be breathed out by God, our only infallible and inerrant rule for all matters of faith and practice. In addition, holding to the unity of the Scriptures as one coherent whole detailing God’s plan of redemption, and detailing his eternal standard of righteousness, his Law.
4. A proper view of man. This is twofold, on the one hand it is essential to hold that Man was created directly and specially by God, made in the image of God. On the other, we must accept what the Bible says about Human Nature today; that we have fallen into Sin, into total depravity and are totally hostile to God in mind, word, and deed. That we can in no sense do anything to rescue ourselves from our sin laden condition.
5. A proper view of salvation. Because of the views in number 4., man cannot save himself. He has to be saved totally by the power of God and cannot cooperate with God to achieve salvation. God must save, and God alone. So Salvation is by Grace ALONE. God’s Grace is the only cause of Salvation in man. This is done by the instrument of God-given faith ALONE. This salvation coming through the sacrifice of Christ alone. So holding a Biblical view of Salvation by Grace alone through faith alone, in Christ alone is key.
6. A proper view of the church. Holding to the truths that Christ established his Church for the faithful, to administer Baptism and The Lord’s Supper and to proclaim all that he has commanded them, is a key component of orthodoxy.
7. A proper view of the future. A hallmark of orthodox Christianity is the confession of Jesus Christ’s Second coming, that he will resurrect all the dead and consign believers to an Eternal new heavens and new earth, and all unbelievers to an eternal Hell.
That is just a basic overview of Christian orthodoxy from a Reformed perspective. These are the beliefs that I believe are necessary for the Biblical Gospel to be clear and coherent. It is important to remember, however, that just because somebody holds unorthodox views on a subject does not mean they have nothing valuable to say or are not Lovers of Jesus. Many great minds have held unfortunately unorthodox views on certain subjects but have contributed much to the faith, an example would be C.S. Lewis, who despite his great insights into Life and Godliness, held views on Scripture and Man’s sin nature that did great damage to the Gospel and cause of Christ. Many people do in fact believe a Biblical Gospel despite holding view that can muddle and distort it.
I’m sure not everybody agrees with everything I listed as being a part of orthodoxy and I am sure others would have added more.
So who can meet all the qualifications of everything I just listed?
Unfortunately not very much of “Christianity” , due to the sad state of affairs that prevails in the Christian world. Only the evangelical Reformed Churches, Lutherans, and some Anglicans and Baptists make the cut. None the less, among those who agree on the orthodox essentials, there is plenty of room for disagreement on smaller (but still very important) issues such as The nature and mode of Baptism, The millennium of Revelation 20, and things of that sort.
Now that I have given my humble definition of what it means to be orthodox, I will move on in part 2 to describing unorthodoxy and heresy.