Thursday, June 6, 2019

Yuta's Song: a metaphor from the experiences with our dog.

I love my Master – he’s so good for me;
It’s by his side, I always want to be.

The time I was a puppy yet – they clipped my tail; they chewed my ear,
But then, one day the Master came; he loved me, chose me, took me home.
Though I was young and wild –my snapping filled his kids with fear-
They loved me still; they made me all their own.

A special seat the Master made for me; good shelter did provide.
He filled my bowls- with kibbles and with water fresh.
He took me on his daily walks; I could explore, run free, and dash.
If danger lurked, he called me back; the leash was then my guide.

And at the end of night, I heard the Master at his bedroom door
I would jump up, and shake, and greet him with delight.
And soon he’d come, and take me for a walk- the moment I adored
Together in a fresh new day, awakening from the night.

We walked by corn fields to the forest or the lake.
I loved to do the hide-and-seek, his laughter for my sake.
And then, he trained me on the walks his calling to obey,
Yet, first I wanted more to smell, to dig, and have my way.

One Sunday morning after church – the kids walked ‘round the sty.
Some birds were sitting on the dirt within big concrete rim.
I jumped to spook them, scare them, make them fly,
As they flew up, however, I went down- and then I had to swim.

And as I thrashed through miry mess; I could not even yelp.
The kids were panicked too, but one ran quickly home for help
And then my Master came, reached down and held me tight.
He pulled me out and put me down, I jumped up with delight.

I shook and shuddered; black blotches made on Master’s dress.
Yet, he just smiled and patted me; there came no bad redress.
So, now I serve my Master well, much better than before,
And when he calls, I run to him; my Savior and my Lord.

One time, on holidays, we made a lengthy hike.
The hills were steep, the sun was hot; that was not what I liked.
And then, my legs gave way, I could no longer stand.
Master bent down, and took me in his hands,
He swung me up, so put me on his shoulder.
He loved me even more as I was getting older.

I love my Master – he’s been so good for me;
He cared for me, he carried me; he saved me from the mire.
He is my greatest love; and by his side, I always want to be!
He is the purpose of my life, my joy and one desire!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Covenant of Grace Revisited II: Creation of Space in the Covenant of Grace 3

Personal Application
The same stages that are found in the covenant-history can also be seen in one’s personal life. As I have argued earlier, even those who do not know God or seek God are in a sense children of God. God has given them life, and He has cared and provided for them in many ways. So, they owe it to their Father-God to seek Him and to thank Him; to trust and to obey Him.

If children are born in a Christian family, they may know that they, as little lambs in the flock, also belong to the Good Shepherd. Like the children of Abraham, they may live in the community where they hear God’s Word and experience God’s love. They have the promise of salvation, which at the right time, they must appropriate by faith.

Others are to seek their Father-God, so that –when they hear the Good News- they may recognize it as the truth that they so desperately need to hear. In the Gospel proclamation, they too receive the promise of salvation, and here too, it must be appropriated by faith.

When you travel from the earth’s equator to the North Pole, you pass through several climate zones: from tropical to temperate to arctic cold.
Yet, you can experience the same sort of climate zones when you climb a mountain in a tropical country, but you can do so in a shorter span of distance and time.
I see a parallel in the covenant history. The three stages took thousands of years, yet in one person’s life they can be experienced within a span of less than a century.

Although children in the church are fully part of the two-dimensional covenant, just like the children of Israel, yet they cannot make a credible life-long commitment to follow Jesus. We do not expect them to commit themselves to a life-long partner in marriage, so we cannot expect them to make a similar decision towards Christ, even though He has –in a sense- already offered them His wedding ring!
As we saw, Peter, at Pentecost addressed the God-worshippers with the claim, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2: 39). Surely, God’s promises of salvation and the (indwelling) Spirit were for all who heard Peter’s message. These promises were for the Jews and converts to Judaism as well as their households; they were also for all those who would yet, in ages to come, hear the same Gospel message.
Yet, not all who heard the message and had the promise accepted it in faith, for Luke writes, Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”

The Position of the Young Children (of Believers)

When the Hebrews escaped slavery in Egypt, the children joined their parents. When Lot was saved from Sodom, the children came with him. When Jesus ‘saved’ children from their diseases, he did so on the ground of their parents’ faith. When the prison guard became a disciple of Jesus, his whole family was saved (Acts 16: 31-33).
When I took a course on ‘church planting’ at a Baptist seminary, a former missionary to the Middle East urged us, “If a father in that culture decides to follow Christ, we should be prepared to baptize him and his family”. It is normal in that culture that the family follows the father. ‘Wow’, I thought, ‘and isn’t this the same culture where we find the early Christian church?!’
When a baby was born to Christian friends in China, they regularly asked me, as pastor, to bless their newborn child. On one occasion, I noticed in the bedroom a calendar with a picture of ‘the Good Shepherd’, so I assured their parents that their little lamb also belonged to Jesus, and we prayed together that she would later indeed choose to (continue to) follow Him.

Nevertheless, I have often observed that in churches where infants are baptized a false assurance lives that the child is guaranteed to go to heaven. There the very word ‘covenant’ brought up associations with ‘the wonderful comfort that we might have in infant baptism’.
The liturgical form does little to stress that covenant blessings, if spurned in later life, actually result in a greater curse and condemnation.[1]

This is what the Reformed churches (GKv) in The Netherlands have in their liturgical form for the baptism of infants:

De heilige Geest garandeert je dat hij in je komt wonen. Hij maakt je één met Christus. Hij maakt tot je persoonlijk eigendom wat je in Christus al heb . Daardoor zul je eens volmaakt zuiver zijn. Dan zul je eeuwig leven te midden van het volk dat God heeft uitgekozen.

The Holy Spirit guarantees you (in baptism) that He will come to dwell in you. He makes you one with Christ. He makes that (all Christ’s promises) will be your personal possession. Through this work, you will be made pure and perfect. Then you will dwell forever among the people that God has chosen.

And what is the biblical passage that is supposed to teach that this is true for all baptized children? 1 Corinthians 6: 19, which reads:
”Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?”
Yet, it seems to be clear that Paul is here not addressing infants in the church, but believers.

Sure, the next paragraph in the form states that there are still obligations for the child, but how could a guaranteed rebirth ever be undone? Besides the rebirth or indwelling Spirit is only true for the elect. Reformed theology professors have given me vague, inconclusive answers when I questioned them on this point.
One told me that the Holy Spirit gives the assurance, but that’s not the same things as a guarantee. Nevertheless, baptism is listed as a sacrament, which implies not only that it is a sign, but also a seal. And a seal is a guarantee, so the newer translation does not change the meaning that was already intended by claiming it’s a guarantee.
Another one assured me that the real basis for (infant) baptism is the receiving of the promise and not of the promised things. Yet, regular church visitors (in the preaching) also receive the promise, while the church would not consider them for baptism until they make a credible public profession of personal faith!

Obligation for Obedience
As I mentioned, the form continues:
Van jouw kant ben je nu verplicht God zo te gehoorzamen als bij je nieuwe leven past. Je moet geloven in deze ene God - Vader, Zoon en heilige Geest - en hem liefhebben met heel je hart, met heel je ziel, met heel je verstand en met inzet van al je krachten. Je moet met de wereld van de zonde breken, wat zondig in je is laten afsterven en vol ontzag voor God leven.

From your side, you are now under obligation to obey God as it befits your new life. You must believe this one God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and love him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. You must break with the world of sin, let sin die in you, and live in full respect for God.

At the time that I publicly challenged these things in our churches, it was a common idea that the obligations for the baptized person have no eternal consequences, for…
·       God has given his guarantee. We cannot make this undone.
·       If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself. (2 Tim. 2:13)
·       The Canons of Dort teach us that God’s grace is irresistible
·       They also teach us about the perseverance of the saints

Now, this is the problem.
If the Reformed children have the guarantee of salvation, and it cannot be undone, then salvation is guaranteed for all the children in the church. That impression was given in our church at the time, but the Bible clearly teaches no such thing.
On the other hand, if salvation is first graciously given, while the final salvation depends on the fulfilment of the righteous requirements, then we are not saved by grace alone. There are Reformed leaders, who teach this two-step-justification-theory.[2]
Thank God, Baptists like John Piper, Don Carson, and Stephen Westerholm[3] have pointed out the subtle but serious error in this teaching.


The issue of ‘infant baptism’ is not nearly so clear as I have been led to believe. I was told that Baptists cannot be Christian believers. The Bible clearly tells us to baptize children of believers, they claimed, so those who refused to do this cannot truly believe the Bible.
Over the most recent twenty years, however, I have observed with amazement how many Baptists became more and more Reformed, even as most ‘Reformed’ churches today no longer stand for the core values of the Reformation.

Thank God for The Gospel Coalition, where the Reformed and the Baptists can work effectively together, without compromising the Truth or the authority of Scripture.

A few months ago, I was baptized by immersion in a Baptist church. This was my testimony:

“When I was –about sixty years ago- born of believing parents, they brought me into the church to receive the sign of the covenant: God also wanted to be my Father and Savior’.
It took about twenty years before a radical transformation occurred in my life. No longer did I want to be in the center of my life. In deep gratitude for God’s love in Jesus’ sacrifice, I now wanted to live for Him and to be His witness.
Yet, at that time I had little notion of conversion or rebirth. This only came another twenty years later, when I wanted (like the Bereans) to search the Scriptures to find out whether what I had learned was true. That is when I came to know the work of Don Carson and John Piper. I recognized my Master’s voice! Yet, at that time I was not ready to be immersed.
Nevertheless, today the day has come –some twenty years later again- to renew my covenant with God and to enter the deep water of baptism!”

[1] Dr. J. Van Bruggen warned about this in his book “Het Diepe Water van de Doop” (the deep, hence threatening water of baptism.)
[2] the movement has been called The Federal Vision.
[3] Stephen Westerholm: “Justification reconsidered”