Monday, June 29, 2009

How Do We Treat Covenant Children?

Someone left the following comment on one of my earlier posts, which I want to answer here since my answer is too long to fit in the comments box.

"Robin - enjoy your posts, you do a great job. If the children are believers, then fine. For an unbeliever to celebrate the Lord's death and resurrection would be a bit pointless wouldn't it? If the children don't understand what is going on they shouldn't take communion. I grew up in a church thinking I was a Christian because I had gone through catechism class, and took communion, and it all led me into a false sense of who I was before God. If I remember correctly,the Puritans got into trouble when they instituted the Half-Way covenant which allowed those without a conversion experience to take communion. Blessings to you!"

I’m glad you enjoy my posts. Right now I am sitting in the airport on my way to a funeral, waiting for the next connection and as I have a few hours before my next plane, I will try to address your comments.

You raise some good points. Certainly Greg Bahnsen maintained the child had to be old enough to make a profession of faith, however simple that profession is. However, that is not my position. I would adopt the position of the Eastern church (and the Western church until comparatively recently) in admitting children, however young, to the Lord’s table, provided they have been baptized. I don’t think it matters whether or not they understand what is going on. Being a member of God’s family (which is what communion is all about) doesn’t depend on our own understanding of it but on what God is doing, first in choosing us before the foundation of the world and then in feeding us. The Eucharist is not a disguised sermon so that we can get something out of it for our minds. It is fellowship with the Lord, feeding on the food that He gives us. So just as a starving man is fed by food whether he understands why the food is helping him or not, so a baby is fed by the food that God offers whether he understands about it or not. Communion is something objective that God does. Thus, what Calvin said of baptism I would say of infant-communion: “if the children of believers, without the aid of understanding, are partakers of the covenant, there is no reason why they should be excluded from the sign because they are not capable of expressing their allegiance to the stipulation of the covenant...”
And again, “If it be just for infants to be brought to Christ, why is it not allowable to admit them to [the Lord’s supper], the symbol of our communion and association with Christ? If theirs is the kingdom of Heaven, why shall the sign be denied them by which, as it were, an entrance into the church is opened that, being received into it, they may be enrolled among the heirs of the heavenly kingdom: How unjust shall we be, if we drive away from Christ those whom he invites to him; if we deprive them of the gifts with which he adorns them; if we exclude those whom he graciously admits?”

I don’t see how this can lead to a false sense of who we are before God. Perhaps in your case you thought that your salvation was guaranteed because you took communion and studied the catechism, etc. However, in the classic Protestant understanding, the sacraments do not make us a Christian but are the evidence that we already are members of God’s family, just as circumcision marked out the people who had already been born into God’s covenant family. If this is accompanied by nurture on the part of the parents, the child should grow up with a clear sense of their identity as a member of God’s family. I try to practice this in my own home. Beside my children’s bed I put pictures of their baptisms, and I constantly remind them of their baptism of proof of who they are in Christ. I say things like, “You are a Phillips and that means we belong to each other. But you are also a child of God and your baptism is proof that God chose you to be in His family even before you were born. That means that you belong to God. That is who you are and who you will always be.” I have never ever mentioned to them that when they’re older they will have to choose, or that the verdict is still out on them or that they occupy the status as ‘candidates. When they fall into sin, I remind them again of these truths and say, “Is the way you are behaving the way a child of God behaves?” Dr. J.W. Alexander wrote: “But O how we neglect that ordinance [of infant baptism]! treating children in the Church, just as if they were out of it. Ought we not daily to say (in its spirit) to our children, ‘You are Christian children, you are Christ’s, you ought to think and feel and act as such!”

If – God forbid – I fail in my task to nurture them and so they someday choose to reject the Lord, I will still address them as a child of God, but as a wayward child of God, a covenant breaker, someone who is being unfaithful to his identity. You see, they will never be able to escape from the significant of their baptism whatever they do. They will always have a sense of who they are. We have baptism parties to celebrate our baptisms, and special baptism candles that we light on their baptism anniversaries, and special cups that were given to them at their baptisms that they can drink wine from during our baptism parties.

This, of course, assumes that there is a basic continuity in the structure of the old and new covenants. In both, there are three basic categories: (A) those who are in the covenant and are faithful to it because they are regenerate; (B) those who are in the covenant but are unfaithful to it because they are not regenerate; (C) those who are not in the covenant at all. Interestingly even atheists have an unconscious awareness of this, as evidenced by all the recent ‘de-baptism ceremonies’ in England. But of course, these atheists will never be able to escape the significance of their baptisms, because they will always be covenant breakers rather than just un-baptised individuals. It is not within human power to de-baptize oneself, only to live in a way that is inconsistent with one’s baptism.

Regarding the, so called, Half-Way covenant of the Puritan’s American descendents, that arose only because the reformed understanding of the covenant was neglected. Remember, the magisterial reformers held to infant baptism, not as a means for bringing children into the covenant, but to recognize that children of believers already enjoyed a covenant relation with God and a real vital membership in the church. Such children, the reformers taught, are not mere candidates for salvation, with the verdict still pending until they develop the cognitive apparatus necessary for conscious belief; rather, such children are ‘presumptively regenerate’ in the same way that we presume that a faith-professing adult convert is regenerate. In the case of the latter, the presumption of regeneration (and therefore baptism) is made on the basis of the convert’s profession of faith; in the case of the latter, the presumption of regeneration is made on the basis of the promises God gives to believing parents. Christian parents were entrusted with the awesome responsibility of being God’s means for preserving and sustaining the faith of His children. This was the classic Protestant position until the decline of religion at the beginning of the 18th century. The privileges of church membership, together with the duties incumbent on believing parents, began to be seriously neglected by the Protestant community. All too often, religion continued as a shell with the essential kernel sucked out, with many church members following the external rituals associated with being a Christian without the inner conviction. In order to accommodate the increase of functionally unconverted church members, some Presbyterians began to suggest that it was entirely appropriate for a baptized child to be an external member of the church and still be regarded as unregenerate, thus reversing the reformation presumption of regeneration that was applied to all baptized individuals not under church discipline. A corollary of this was the formulation of new theories on the significance of baptism and the covenant, including the idea of the Half-Way covenant that you referred to.

It was in reaction to that that the Great Awakening began to stress that the children of believers needed to have a conversion experience. Such a view was – in my opinion – very unhelpful. I would disagree with the Great Awakening revivalists that a sudden conversion experience, preceded by a state of alienation from God, is the normal and only method for bringing souls into God’s kingdom. The reason this view was unhelpful is because it implied that children were enemies of God until they too experienced this type of conversion. This fails to appreciate the covenantal standing of baptized children who, thanks to the slow and steady nurture of their Christian parents, might never be able to look back and remember a time when they did not know the love of God or desire to follow in His ways. It also failed to appreciate that Christian nurture over time, and not a sudden conversion experience, is the normal method God uses for propagating his kingdom. As Dr. Van Dyke put it in his Stone Lectures, “Christian Nurture, beginning in infancy, inheriting traditional influences, and surrounded at the first dawn of consciousness by a religious atmosphere, is the normal and divine method for propagating the Church.” J.A. Quarles put it similarly when writing about slow and steady Christian nurture: “this is the Lord’s chosen way to perpetuate and extend his Church. It is the growth from within, like the mustard seed....The regular, normal mode of increase is through the multiplication of Christian families, the blessings descending from generation to generation in an ever growing ratio.”

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Schenck on the Great Awakening

“It was unfortunate that the Great Awakening made an emotional experience, involving terror, misery, and depression, the only approach to God. A conscious conversion from enmity to friendship with God was looked upon as the only way of entrance into the kingdom. Sometimes it came suddenly, sometimes it was a prolonged and painful process. But it was believed to be a clearly discernible emotional upheaval, necessarily ‘distinct to the consciousness of its subject and apparent to those around.’ Preceding the experience of God’s love and peace, it was believe necessary to have an awful sense of one’s lost and terrifying position. Since these were not the experiences of infancy and early childhood, it was taken for granted children must, or in all ordinary cases would, grow up unconverted. Infants, it was thought, needed the new birth, as well as adults. They could not be saved without it. But the only channel of the new birth which was recognized was a conscious experience of conviction and conversion. Anything else, according to Gilbert Tennent, was a fiction of the brain, a delusion of the Devil. In fact, he ridiculed the idea that one could be a Christian without knowing the time when he was otherwise.”

Witsius' Quote

“Here certainly appears the extraordinary love of our God, in that as soon as we are born, and just as we come from our mother, he hath commanded us to be solemnly brought from her bosom, as it were, into his own arms, that he should bestow upon us, in the very cradle, the tokens of our dignity and future kingdom;...that, in a word, he should join us to himself in the most solemn covenant from our tender years: the remembrance of which as it is glorious and full of consolation to us, so in like manner it tends to promote Christian virtues, and the strictest holiness, through the whole course of our lives.” Witsius, from The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Children in the Covenant

I am currently reading The Presbyterian Doctrine of Children in the Covenant: An Historical Study of the Significance of Infant Baptism in the Presbyterian Church by Lewis Bevens Schenck, which I am borrowing it from my pastor (who has reviewed the book on his blog).

Friday, June 26, 2009

I'm Looking for a Job

Two weeks ago I got a phone call from my boss to inform me that the magazine I was writing for in England no longer has the funds to keep employing me. As a result, my pay has been cut to one quarter of what I was previously earning.

The long and the short of it is that I have suddenly found myself out of work, with very little time to look for anything else. We were living hand-to-mouth so we have no savings to fall back upon, making it a matter of urgency for me to find work sometime in July.

I am making this announcement because we are in great need of prayer, and also because we need as many people as possible to keep an ear open for positions. I will naturally be using all the normal channels to try to find work, but it always helps to have a network of people with their ears wide open. If any of my readers would like to see a copy of my resume and my qualifications as a writer, just shoot me an email. (Given the urgency of the situation, I am not merely looking for work in my field but am willing to take anything, although relocation will be a last resort).

With five dependents, this has naturally been a very difficult blow for us. If I am unable to find work by the beginning of next month then we will be in the position of having, quite literally, to trust the Lord for our daily bread.

I know that many other people are facing similar trials during these difficult economic times. What an encouragement it is to serve a sovereign God who promises to work good even out of the difficult providences He sends us. Please pray that Esther and I would remain joyful and positive, keeping our hearts fixed on the following promises:

Romans 8:35 & 37: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?...Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us."

James 1:2-4: "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing."

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Importance of Church

In Jeffrey Meyers' book The Lord’s Service: The Grace of Covenant Renewal Worship, Meyers goes through all the important features of the church service, illuminating their meaning from the scriptures and the reformed tradition.

One of the areas where the book has helped me is through confirming how important what goes on during Sunday morning really is. Many Christians don’t realise why going to church should be central, while I have some Christian friends who don’t even bother belonging to a church (I was in that bondage myself for many years).

It puts things into perspective to realise that Christians in China are willing to risk their lives each week to attend church, whereas many people in the West will skip church simply because they want to lie in on Sunday morning.

Sometimes the no-church mentality can be the result of selfishness. Proverbs 18:1 says, “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire…” I don’t think the isolation Proverbs is talking about is purely quantitative. Sometimes whole groups can meet together on the basis of an isolationist mentality (see my post on home church HERE).

In chapter 15 of The Lord’s Service, Meyers dismantles the popular evangelical notion that a personal relationship with Jesus can be severed from His Body, the Church, and from the ministry and sacraments of the Church. He shows how the legacy of Gnosticism manifests itself in the unbiblical notion that the Spirit must operate immediately upon the soul of a man without external means or instruments.

The reformed tradition does acknowledge that the Lord is free to work outside His constituted means in extraordinary cases. Remember what the Westminster Confession says: outside the visible church “there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.” We don’t want to limit God, but at the same time we want to do justice to the ordinary means that Scripture reveals.

God has ordained where we are to find Him: we find Him at church. When Christ was on earth, if you wanted to find Jesus, He had a visible body you could seek out. Many Christians think that now that Christ has ascended, if you want to find Him, you have to hunt for something invisible inside yourself. But that is not true. Scripture tells us that there is still a visible body of Christ on the earth, namely the church (1 Cor. 12:12-14, 27).

This understanding displaces the unbiblical emphasis that having a personal relationship with Jesus has come to play in evangelical piety. Of course, if we use the phrase ‘a personal relationship with Jesus’ as a shorthand way to refer to regeneration, then no Christian would dispute the need for such a state of affairs to exist. But if we mean - and this is what many evangelicals mean by the phrase - something subjective that happens inside our heart, then I think we need to get our priorities straight.

This is not to say that feelings are unimportant to the Lord. The work of redemption should progressively transform every part of our being like yeast working through dough, bringing our spirit, mind, bodies and, yes, our emotions, into conformity with Christ. But it’s important to identify what kind of emotions we are talking about. If a person can listen to someone blaspheme the name of Christ and not feel revulsion, then there are probably some areas of sanctification that still needs to occur in the area of feelings. If a person can separate himself from Christ’s visible body and not feel a lack, then there are probably some areas of sanctification that still needs to occur in the area of feelings. But although feelings are important to the Lord, they are not the barometer of spiritual health, and to treat them as such is to make of them an idol.

It is because of this understand that Jeff Meyers’ book is so valuable. In emphasising the importance of liturgical worship in the New Covenant community, the locus of spirituality is taken away from the subjective and onto the objective, away from me and onto Christ.

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Tom Wright on Resurrection, Heaven and Hell

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Dying Scorpion of Labour Still Has Venom in Its Tail

The dying scorpion still has venom in its tail: this decomposing Labour government, rotting like a fish from the head down and with a maximum life expectancy of 11 months, is still doggedly pursuing the destruction of British society - the Project on which it embarked 12 years ago. Its latest assault on the family is an offensive against home schooling.

Ed Balls, the Children's Secretary - the very title is a totalitarian evocation of Maoist crèches and collectivist indoctrination - is to compel all parents educating their children at home to register them with local authorities (whose property they evidently are) and "extra support" (ie taxpayers' money) will be made available as part of "significantly strengthened" regulatory guidelines. In other words, the state, furious that 50,000 children have eluded its clutches, is intruding further into family life.

Keep Reading

Friday, June 19, 2009

Greg Bahnsen on Children at the Table

"...if we're going to be true to our principles as Reformed people we should not impose prerequisites that the Bible doesn't impose. There's no age requirement for the Lord's Supper..."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Man Who Was Thursday

I've just finished reading this hilariously funny novel by G.K. Chesterton. How wonderful to know that sanity is even more exciting than anarchy!

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In the minds of some, speciesism, like racism and sexism, is a social injustice to redress.

Never heard of “speciesism?” Popularized in the 1970s by Peter Singer’s influential work, Animal Liberation, “speciesism” refers to discrimination based on one’s species. Of particular concern is the exploitation of animals by Homo sapiens—a species whose privileged status derives from its vast distinctions with the rest of the animal kingdom. But that could all change.

Keep Reading

Monday, June 15, 2009

UK Spokesperson Seeks to "transform the most intimate and private relations between women and men"

If you thought radical feminism was a thing of the 1970's, you need to read the article I've just written for the Salvo blog about the British Government's new spokesperson for parents and children. The radical agenda she represents brings into focus many of the concerns I raised in my book The Decent Drapery of Life. Read more HERE.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Some Observations About Pop Culture (Pop Culture Part 2)

To the extent that it glorifies what is novel, quickly accessible and distracting, pop culture is incompatible with that sense of transcendence that requires stillness, silence and contemplation in which to function.
Pop culture both feeds and is fed by the postmodern tendency to replace transcendent metanarratives with local narratives of immanence. It thus runs the risk of making what is here and now seem more real than the eternal verities.
Because it is a constantly fluctuating and replenished reservoir of practices, emblems and rituals, it both feeds and is fed by the Heraclitian tendencies of the Postmodern project.
To the extent that the entertainment and consumer-driven side of pop-culture plays homage to the individual self, it reinforces the pervasive tendency to bypass the institutional and covenantal bonds by which human relationships have traditionally been organized.
The failure to understand redemption in its covenantal context has meant that the gospel has been reduced to an approximation for individual salvation instead of a renewal which encompasses all of the world and its institutions. A full-orbed understanding of the gospel, which includes but is not limited to individual salvation, will necessarily have at its core the concept of Christendom and will consequently endeavour to do justice to the rich complexity of the cultures that Christ has redeemed de jure and is in the processes of redeeming de facto. This rich complexity is lost by the reductionism of pietism which assumes that anything originating from secular culture, and especially pop culture, must be sinful, as well as the reductionism of the “seeker friendly” church movement which naively assumes that what is not explicitly sinful must be benign. In so far as both these approaches reduce the Christian understanding of pop culture to black and white moral issues – the one, in order to condemn it, the other in order to defend it - they fail to appreciate the complexity of the culture Christ is in the process of recovering. Because pop culture – like all human culture - is a dynamic matrix of artefacts, enthusiasm, sounds, attitudes, institutions, philosophies, fashions, myths, prejudices, rituals and unspoken religious commitments, all embodied in individual people, groups, collectives and associations of people, it is futile to try to evaluate the ethics of, say, having a tattoo, buying an iPod or getting a nose ring (or any other cultural expression), in isolation from this fluid matrix. As soon as we do that we are not properly dealing with culture at all, any more than a scientist is dealing with the ocean by studying sea water in a bottle in his laboratory. What is really required is much harder: we must get behind the culture that has produced tattoos, email, rap music, nose-rings, professional sports, shopping malls and sound bites, in order to understand how each of these particulars coalesce with the larger cultural milieu. We must get beyond simply asking, “Is it a sin for a man to have a nose ring?” but must ask the far more difficult question of what male nose-pricings reveal about our culture, our anthropology and our unspoken religious commitments. If any kind of ethical pronouncement is ultimately required, it should come on the other side of such critical reflection.
The celebration of novelty that has emerged from the marriage of pop culture and entertainment technology has amplified the disestablishment tendencies that have been present in pop culture ever since the 1960’s. To the extent that the formalities and fixities of institutional mores (whether political, ecclesiastical or social institutions) offer a hedge to the impulse for continual novelty, such institutions become the enemy where pop culture is concerned. Thus, churches which attempt to appeal to pop culture need to eschew both the institutional apparatuses of Christendom as well as the formative role that ecclesiastical tradition might have to play in the modus operandi of our worship.

At the root of all religions are the twin questions, “What is the good life?” “How do I get there?” Pop culture answers these questions as clearly as any religion. It judges the good life by the criteria of happiness and fulfilment in personal relationships and everywhere it tells us that the way to get there is through individual consumption. Rather than offering an alternative Biblical model of the good life, churches pandering to pop culture will advertise a relationship with Jesus as a product that will bring happiness and fulfilment to the individual.
Although pop culture draws together masses of people in temporary communities defined by their common attachments to fashions and fads, it simultaneously reduces each person to an island. It does this by ripping out of the anthropological landscape the transcendent categories and metanaratives that unite us to something more abiding than personal preference.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Emotional Purity and Broken Heart Syndrome

See also:

Emotional Purity and Broken Heart Syndrome

Betrothal and Emotional Purity: is it Biblical?


The Way of a Man With a Maid

Bill Gothard and ATI

The following is a quotation taken from my book The Way of a Man with a Maid on the subject of "emotional purity" and "broken heart syndrome" from an experiential perspective (chapter 10 deals with the same subject from a Biblical perspective). The book can downloaded for free by clicking HERE.

'Emotional Purity'

“Purity…” writes John Thompson, “means no physical affection or romantic emotions prior to God’s approval.”
[1] Now it is one thing to argue against physical affection prior to ‘God’s approval’ - which in Thompson’s phraseology refers to parental authorization – but no romantic emotions? Yet, like it or lump it, that is exactly what is meant by emotional purity: complete absence of romantic emotions, thoughts, desires or aspirations, until the father says ‘Go!’

I have a friend named Emily who had always accepted the teaching about emotional purity and believed that to have a crush on a boy amounted to nurturing an idol in her heart. However, when Emily actually found herself being attracted to a young man, she was helpless to know how to handle it. Nor were matters helped when friends began to come up to Emily and say, “Don’t you know that you are committing emotional fornication? You’re being promiscuous and I think you should be careful to save yourself totally for your future husband.”

In another instance, a lady named Katie told me about the time her father gave permission for emotional bonding after her courtship period had been officially entered. The problem was, Katie’s father did not give permission for her emotions to be released completely, only somewhat. Katie was still supposed to guard her heart to some extent and not get too emotionally attached. (Katie confessed to me later that she had difficulty figuring out where the line was, but apparently her parents felt she had crossed it.)

Typically, Jonathan Lindvall manages to find scriptural justification for this odd behavior in the most unexpected parts of the Bible. He appeals to the example of Adam. When, through naming the various animals, Adam realized that he, alone among all the beasts, had no partner, God put him to sleep. Likewise, argues Lindvall, when we get to the age when our interest in the opposite sex is stirred up, God asks us to "go to sleep emotionally!"

The goal here is emotional virginity, so that when the marriage finally occurs, both people will not only have never had physical relations with anyone else, but will also be emotional virgins, having never felt anything towards anyone else. “Not only are we to be physically pure,” says Lindvall, “but we need to be emotionally pure in our hearts.”

Just because a person feels an attraction that will not culminate in marriage does not make those emotions impure. “Emotional purity” is therefore a bad term since it presupposes that there is something impure or wrong about these emotions, as if to have such feelings defiles a person in the same way as sexual promiscuity.

It must be understood that this ideal of “emotional purity” does not simply mean that young people should reserve the expression of romantic feelings until paternal authorization, but that the emotions and thoughts themselves must be stifled. As Lindvall clearly states,

"I have concluded that God's best for me is to teach my children not to allow themselves to cultivate romantic inclinations toward anyone until they know God has shown them this person is to be their lifelong mate...Ideally they don't even allow themselves to dream about romantic relationships. Certainly there will be struggles, but to the degree that they allow me to protect them from the emotional scars my wife and I bear, they will be spared the regrets we suffer."

Lindvall explains, always with enthusiasm, his success in imposing this idea on his own daughter.

"At age twelve, I took Bethany out to dinner one evening and presented her with a golden necklace with a heart-shaped pendant formed like a padlock. There was a small keyhole and an accompanying key. I presented the pendant and necklace to her and asked her to "Give me your heart." (Prov. 23:26) 1 explained that I wanted to keep the gold key as a symbol of her trusting me with her emotions. I specifically asked her to not entertain romantic thoughts toward any young man until she and her mother and I together conclude that he is God's choice to be her husband. (There is scriptural precedent for the young people involved to be consulted and consent to a marriage arrangement.) I explained that at the beginning of her marital engagement I would give the gold key to her betrothed, and that although she might not yet love him, she would then be free to aim her heart toward him. Bethany unreservedly entrusted the symbolic gold key into my care, and with it, her heart.

"Some young man is going to come to me and say, 'I believe God wants me to marry your daughter.' And I'll pray about it. And if God shows me the same thing, I'm going to give him that key, and I'm going to say, 'You are authorized, and I'm going to help you woo my daughter, as she will be your help mate forever.'

"In that conversation I asked Bethany to take it a little further. I asked her to commit to me that she would not be friends with any fellows. I asked her not to even be friends with boys."

Lindvall started a trend here, and now there is a website that sells “Heart Necklace with Key” designed for this very purpose. According to the website, “This is a meaningful symbol of a daughter giving her dad the key to her heart until he gives it to the man selected to be her future spouse. The inscription on the heart is ‘He who holds the key can unlock my heart.’”

One gets the feeling from all this that romantic emotions are something that can be turned on or off like a light switch. While there can be no denying that our will plays a part in the process, very often the romantic feelings, crushes, and infatuations that young people experience are things that, to a large extent, cannot be controlled by the will. What can be controlled is how the person responds to these feelings that can come and go like the wind. To try to tamper with the emotions themselves, however, is bound to be unproductive. The only way to prevent such ‘unauthorized’ emotions from happening would surely be to build monasteries and nunneries to house our youth. When the time for wedding vows does arrive, the vows can directly follow the introductions.

As a young adult I went to a Bible college where the ideas of emotional purity were strongly advocated. I was one among only nineteen other young adults under the burden of over a hundred written and unwritten rules. One such rule was a universal taboo on anything to do with romance. The staff of this school did their best to prevent the young people from anything that might excite them romantically. Every cassette and CD that a student brought to the school was carefully previewed, and if any love songs were found then the album or the song would be banned. The administrator of the school encouraged us to make fun of kissing when it appeared on videos, even mocking the act with disgusting lip noises like prepubescent boys tend to do. When springtime came the young men were given special instruction to be extra careful, as this was the season when nature causes the hormones to play up (“the mating season” and all that.) There was a ban on private letters and phone calls across the sexes, and Lindvall’s lectures were often played at the beginning of term. If one of the staff members noticed that a man and woman were spending too much time together, they would step in and do something. In one such case, where two people actually fell in love, the staff decided this young man and woman shouldn't be allowed to communicate at all with each other, even from their homes during the summer holidays.

The result of so much concentration on not being tempted by love was interesting. The young women often seemed to treat romance as if it was a big joke and were frequently flippantly flirtatious. The consequence of not treating love and romance seriously in the right way, meant that it was treated flippantly in a totally wrong way. I found that there was not the appropriate care taken by the girls concerning how their actions might hurt the males. On the other hand, whenever any interaction with the opposite sex was at all serious, it was pregnant with self-consciousness, introspection and guilt. A psychotherapist noted that the percentage of sex abuse cases among those who had been to that school was phenomenal - far higher than the percentage among the average non-Christians sector of the population.

Why did these problems arise among those who are instructed so intensely to view romance so cynically and negatively? A similar question might be asked concerning the huge sex scandal that rocked Gothard's Illinois based organization and nearly forced Gothard into retirement.

I believe part of the answer lies in the way these concerns were handled. The devaluation, even the mocking of romance prior to the appropriate time, led to a general misconstruction of attraction, love and sexuality in general. It was very easy to treat these things - whether consciously or unconsciously - as things that were sinful. We tried to bury them in a dark closet and hope they reemerge as infrequently as possible. Often when a person has undergone this kind of unhealthy repression, it causes the thing that has been repressed to be displaced onto another area of his or her experience, so that the thing that was repressed reemerges with a new shape - a shape that the person does not recognize as stemming from the very area they thought was killed.

Another factor at the school I attended was the false dichotomy between the things of the spirit and the passions of the body, as if they are in competition to each other. You didn’t pursue romance because that took your mind off Christ. We thus had no idea how to give the Lord control of these areas because we expected Him to take them away. These areas were not as important to God as things like Bible memorization, study and prayer meetings and if God was interested in them at all, it was in helping us overcome them.

We have already seen this false divide between human emotions and the things of the spirit in Gothard's treatment of loneliness. We also find this false divide between the earthly realm of romance and emotions vs. the “spiritual realm” throughout Lindvall’s teaching. In Lindvall’s newsletter he once shared a letter from a young man who confessed to “struggling with thinking about a girl” whom he might marry. The man wrote,

I have prayed that God would take these thoughts from me, and have tried to stop thinking them myself, once I become aware that I am thinking about her again…. I am just frustrated, and am feeling powerless against these thoughts. (Even though my mind tells me that I'm wrong, and I do have the power to control them).

Lindvall’s advise to help this man achieve ‘victory’ was that he turn totally to Jesus, fast, pray and try to channel his emotional energy into reading and memorizing scripture. Additionally, Lindvall quoted Colossians 3:2: "Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth."
[8] Since the world of romantic emotions is seen as belonging to the inferior realm of “things of the earth,” it is at variance with our pursuit of heavenly things above. A divided field of experience ensues in which a false competition is set up between the spirit and the emotions.

As I found at the Bible College already mentioned, this fragmented and compartmentalized view of our humanity meant that Christ was not Lord of our entire person, and consequently the area of our passions remained outside of His Lordship. Because we were made to feel guilty for even having such emotions, we tended subconsciously to assume that there must be something unclean, dirty, naughty, or impure about this area of life, or else treat it clinically as mere animal instincts. Romance and passion were not viewed as something in which our whole person participates, but treated instead almost like a ‘thing’ external to us that we take on and off. It is always dangerous when life is divided into compartments like this since Christ’s Lordship should permeate all areas of life.

Broken Heart Syndrome

One of the great benefits of courtship, I have been told, is that it minimizes, as much as is humanly possible, the ‘broken-heart syndrome’ so many young people experience. The need to avoid ‘broken-heart syndrome’ is actually one of the primary motivations behind many families pursuing the courtship method. But to what exactly does ‘broken-heart syndrome’ refer?

This term, ‘broken heart syndrome’ was popularized by Lindvall to describe the painful side of romantic emotions when a person feels that their “heart is broken.” Like the term ‘emotional impurity,’ it is a pejorative description that unfairly typifies certain experiences. If the courtship advocates can get us to think of emotional heartache as a ‘syndrome,’ then they have nearly won the argument, in so far as a ‘syndrome’ usually implies neurosis.

When romantic love comes under censor, the next step is to take a dim view of the experience of heart broken-ness. For what does a broken heart signify other than that one has made the fatal mistake of being disappointed in one’s hopes, of extending oneself too far and putting too much hope or confidence in another person.

Similar reasons have led counselors in the secular climate to despise broken hearts. The self-centered consumerist mentality of today has no understanding for an experience which signifies the capacity to feel disappointed or to have hopes which have not been realized.

Sharon Thompson tells us that many girls are unhappy with the casual sex they are expected to have. The reason for their unhappiness is because they are still “condition[ing] sexual consent on romantic expectations.”
[10] When one girl was so traumatized by her first experience of premarital sex, the girl vowed to save sex until marriage so she could be sure the relationship meant as much to the man as it did to her. Thompson concludes that by this decision Tracey “had gone the very same convictions that had set her up to become a victim of love in the first place.”[11] In other words when we enter into sexual experiences with romantic expectation, we become a victim of our own illusions. As a solution Thompson suggests girls learn to treat love as something ephemeral and play the field with the kind of emotional detachment that will save them from heartbreak. This is called 'unencumbered sex.'

Although the context is different, the motivation is the same as we find in much of the courtship movement. Those who push courtship begin the discussion of broken hearted-ness at the same point as Sharon Thompson, namely, the need to avoid being a victim of the heartache and disappointment that romantic expectation can foster. The solution of the former is to encourage all manner of loose behavior without the expectation or need of a secure exclusive relationship; the solution of the latter is to try to eradicate any emotions that might lead to romantic expectation prior to the security of marriage. In both cases they are trying to avoid what Capon refers to as “the ultimate risk of giving oneself to another over whom we have no control.”

The solution is neither to reject romance nor to embrace a sentimental romanticism. Debbie Maken put it well when she wrote:

I’m not fighting against romance; I am fighting against what I call reckless romanticism, the kind of romanticism where we think we will be overjoyed with spontaneous surprises, one after the other. The danger of such recklessness is that little in the relationship matches any of our hopeful and grandiose expectations. Romance is vital for any lover’s relationship, whether courtship or marriage. At its core, romance is not flowers or candy or a good candlelit meal; it is the feeling of being pursued by your love. It’s what we see in the Song of Songs.

Emotional Sterilization

Lindvall draws our attention to the fact that in the typical dating pattern when a person enjoys a series of temporary dating relationships, each relationship must endure a breaking up process before moving on to the next. “However,” he writes,

As their hearts are wounded, and then heal after each episode, they develop emotional calluses as a defense against the depth of grief that would be useful in motivating married couples to shore up the performance of their union.

The more often they experience this [breaking-up], the more scared their emotions are, and then we wonder why when we marry we have a difficult time becoming vulnerable and open with our husband or our wife.

Israel Wayne [who I have become good friends with since writing the book from which this quotation has been drawn] has argued similarly, comparing the emotional pain of breaking off a relationship to sticking on and then ripping off a piece of tape on your arm: at first it hurts, but eventually, if you repeat the process long enough, the hairs that originally acted as pain sensors eventually cease to register pain to the brain. Similarly, it is argued, the more we experience the emotional pain of breaking up a relationship, the more desensitized we become. Eventually our emotions become hardened as an instinctive defense against future pain. “It may seem good to have our emotions hardened,” Wayne writes,

but this doesn’t work very well in a marriage. Who wants to have a spouse who is uncaring, unfeeling, and guards themselves so they won’t be hurt? We all want spouses who can freely give and receive love.

The solution that both Lindvall and Wayne give is not merely to reject the typical dating pattern of in/out relationships. Instead, they say, we should also pursue emotional purity. Emotional purity guarantees that you won’t get hurt since you don’t release your emotions until it’s safe.

Not for the first or last time, Lindvall and Wayne have presented us with a false dilemma. The choice they give us is between a series of in/out dating relationships vs. shutting down the emotions completely until it is ‘safe.’ This gives them the perfect platform to persuade young people to be emotionally ‘pure,’ since the young people they are addressing already have an antipathy to the typical pattern of irresponsible relationships. Forced into this false choice, the model of emotional purity is clearly the only option for a biblically-minded young person or parent. However, this solution not only excludes irresponsible dating but any romantic emotions or desires outside the betrothal paradigm. They are teaching that romantic feelings, emotional desires and expectations are wrong if felt at anytime while there is still a risk that the object of those desires may not become our future spouse. We must safeguard our life against the potential of any emotional pain in the very first place.

It is interesting that this basic argument hinges, not on an appeal to scripture, but on pragmatic and utilitarian concerns, as it promises to maximize the agent’s future happiness in marriage. Even with these pragmatic concerns, however, the shoe is on the other foot. We are being told that marriages will be happier and more emotionally liberated if both parties have practiced these principles prior to engagement. We would do well to question this basic assumption. Surely those who go through youth trying to avoid emotional pain, trying to prevent the possibility of suffering, trying to protect their emotions, are not as a result suddenly going to be emotionally vulnerable and open as soon as they get married. If anything, they will be the ones who have developed the emotional hardness and unable to respond appropriately to emotional conflict and pain within marriage because they have been trained in the art of emotional detachment.

Imagine a young girl who is first learning to walk on her own two legs. The father notices and realizes that there might be falls and the potential of physical pain, before she can finally walk without error. Suppose the father, wanting to prevent his girl from the possibility of this pain, comes and offers her a wheel chair for her to sit and be pushed around in until she is nine. At nine years old, he thinks, her mind will have developed a level of control and sophistication to enable her to learn to walk without the errors that invariably confront the toddler. Now if a father really did that, what would happen when the girl finally reached the day where she was authorized to walk? She would be a cripple since her legs, through continual neglect, would have lost the ability to function.

In a very similar way, a father who successfully disallows his daughter or son from experiencing natural human emotions until he or she is able to do so without the possibility of hurt, will very likely have damaged their very ability to experience normal emotions. If an adolescent is influenced to greet the arrival of romantic emotions with suspicion and guilt, they will likely find it difficult to experience these emotions properly when they are suddenly told it is legitimate. The positive side is that the Lord is able to heal and make whole, but this can be a torturously difficult process if one has years of opposite brain patterns to contend against.

The Trade-off

Parents who have this destructive mentality will not only prevent guilt-prone youths from falling into the 'sin' of having a crush on someone, or of admitting it if they do, but they will prevent that child from the natural healing of that broken heart. Parents who are trying to tie up their youth's emotions are not, at the same time, able to help their children come to terms with their feelings, to face them, accept them, grow from them, and grow out of them within the providence of God.

I am not saying that having a broken heart is an inherently good thing because we can grow from it, or that we should try to get our hearts broken in order to learn lessons. Far from it! A boy who is learning to ride a bicycle will likely have a few falls to start with, and learn from the painful experience of falling how to properly manage the bicycle. It would be stupid, however, if the boy took this fact and fell off the bike on purpose in order to learn from it. The parent who says his teenagers mustn’t have friendships with members of the opposite sex because there is then the possibility of the emotional pain of a broken heart, would be like a father who didn’t let his son learn to ride a bicycle because of the physical pain of falling off.

I am saying what is true of any kind of suffering, that although it is not something that we should go out of our way to try to experience, neither does God always want us to go out of our way to try to prevent it.
[17] Creating a plan for life that will safeguard us from pain, from our own emotions, and those of others, does not help us grow. Nobody likes pain, nobody wants a relationship to end in tears, but if that does happen, does that automatically mean we were sinning? Does that mean we should make sure we protect our children from such an experience by attempting to exercise tight control over their emotions? Does it mean we should allow fear to turn us into something like a computer that automatically backs itself up at every point?

It is the job of a parent to nurture growth in the Lord and His ways, not to dictate it, to help young people approach relationships with integrity and honor and to help them if things go wrong. It is the job of parents to help young people grow from their suffering and broken hearts, not to try to artificially create situations to prevent any possibility of heartache. The only way to prevent the possibility of a young person getting a broken heart is to prevent that child from ever feeling love, and that is the most tragic thing a parent could do to a child. It is not sensitive and caring when Lindvall talks about wanting to spare his children the suffering of a broken heart, for if you want a heart that cannot be broken, what you need is a heart that cannot love. C.S. Lewis puts this well.

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless - it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

I believe that the most lawless and inordinate loves are less contrary to God's will than a self-invited and self-protective lovelessness... We shall draw nearer to God, not be trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armor. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it.

When the New York Times did a front page feature on the courtship movement they quoted from a “betrothed” man who said, “I can begin to emotionally connect because it’s safe.” Safe? What in life is really safe? If these people are looking for an emotionally safe existence, they need to go a lot further to guard themselves. Hell is the only place where you are perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love, as C. S. Lewis brings out in the passage already cited.

With regard to the particular pain of a broken heart, if this must be avoided at all costs, why stop at a prohibition on relationships with the opposite sex? Why not also prohibit all friendships with members of the same sex since it is always possible that someone we have grown to love - perhaps a best friend that we have shared our heart with in a special way - may die, may change, or may do something that leaves us hurting?

After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center my wife, Esther, was talking to a woman about it. The woman mentioned that she had heard on the news that a boy had telephoned his mother from the airplane just before the crash to tell her that he loved her. Esther’s friend said that she would not have been able to cope with that sort of thing if she was a mother. She has chosen not have children in order to avoid the potential pain. It's certainly true that if you're not prepared for the possibility of a broken heart, you shouldn't have children. After all, children may die, they may suffer, they may go through experiences that make the parents weep.

In the end, if we really want the security of knowing our heart will not break, if we really want a life that is emotionally safe, we must carefully guard our heart from becoming attached to anyone - man, woman or animal.

If all that is being sought is some formula for a mistake-free, pain-free life, then the message these teachers are preaching is that mistakes are sin, and pain is sin, and we must not allow either a place in our lives. This is not the gospel that produces a lightness and freedom and trust in God. Instead this places such a huge burden of responsibility on a person to get every detail right one hundred percent of the time that to fail is weakness, and weakness is despised. The emphasis is placed on our control, not God's. The emphasis is that the fewer mistakes you make the more pleasing you are to the Lord. The implication of this is that we are loved for what we are rather than for who we are? If we feel that that is the way God 'loves' us, then we will never understand true love in our human relationships either.

The Shoe is on the Other Foot

It is a paradox worth considering that although these proposed solutions to “broken heart syndrome” are meant to reduce or eliminate emotional pain, in practice we often find the reverse operating. When young people do “slip” and express themselves romantically, the persecution and “discipline” that is often levied upon them is certainly a far greater source of broken hearts than any hypothetical effects that pre-engagement romance is supposed to have in future marriage. To illustrate this I’d like to share what happened in one church that was progressively taken over by followers of Gothard and Lindvall.

The sad incident I am about to relate concerns a young man (whom I will call Mark) whose parents were hard-core Gothardites, and a young women (whom I will call Rachel) whose parents were not so legalistic but still had strict standards when it came to relationships. Events transpired whereby Mark and Rachel developed a relationship. They never went further than to hold hands on one occasion for a few minutes. However, when Mark’s parents found out that they had held hands, they were horrified and said that they had both committed spiritual adultery against their future spouses. The parents of Mark decided to follow the advice for such situations, namely to make sure that all ties between the two were severed. Never again would their son be allowed to speak to Rachel. I do not mean that Mark was not allowed to speak to Rachel for a period of time; I mean that Mark was permanently banned from ever having anything to do with Rachel for the rest of his life! Rachel’s parents were horrified, especially since she was being treated like an adulterer.

Think of this and all the other broken hearts that this teaching has caused, and it becomes ironic that this teaching is being propagated on the grounds that it will reduce emotional pain. Surely the shoe is on the other foot.

[1] John Thompson, “God’s Design For Scriptural Romance Part 1: Rediscovering the Timeless Truths”, op cit.

[2] Jonathan Lindvall, The Dangers of Dating: Scriptural Romance, Hope School Digest, ibid.

[3] From the taped lecture, Youthful Romance: The Dangers of Dating, ibid.

[4] From the tract entitled Youthful Romance: Scriptural Patterns, (Springville, CA: Bold Parenting, 1992).

[5] Jonathan Lindvall, from the tract entitled Youthful Romance: Scriptural Patterns, ibid

[6] From the taped lecture, Youthful Romance: The Dangers of Dating, ibid.

[7] Shamefaced Romance, ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] From Bold Christian Living E-Mail Newsletter, Issue #99.

[9] Susan Schaeffer Macaulay is very good on this idea of the Lord permeating all aspects of life. See, For the Family’s Sake, (Wheaton, ILL: Crossway Books, 1999), especially p. 34.

[10] From Sharon Thompson's study, Going All The Way: Teenage Girls Tales of Sex, Romance, and Pregnancy, (New York: Hill and Wang, 1995) Cited by Shalit, op. cit., p. 64.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Cited by Rodney Clapp in "What Hollywood Doesn't Know About Romantic Love: Celebrating Valentine's Day in the spirit of the Song of Solomon". Christianity Today, Feb. 3, 1984 issue.

[13] Debbie Maken, Getting Serious About Getting Married: Rethinking the Gift of Singleness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006) p. 169.

[14] Bold Christian Living catalogue, article titled ‘Do Teen Dating Practices Prepare Young People For Marriage or Divorce?’ (Springville, CA: Bold Christian Living).

[15] Jonathan Lindvall, from the taped lecture, "Scriptural Betrothal: God's Design for Youthful Romance." (Springville, CA: Bold Christian Living).

[16] Israel Wayne, “Don’t Kiss Before The Wedding!”, The Link: A Homeschool Newspaper, Volume 4, Issue 2.

[17] Edith Schaeffer is very good on this point, and I would highly recommend her book Affliction (Hodder and Stoughton, 1978), particularly chapter eleven where she addresses the temptation to abort affliction.

[18] C. S. Lewis, op. cit., p. 279.

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George Tiller

I've had some uneasiness that my earlier article on the murder of George Tiller was not sufficiently balanced in unequivocally condemning the murderer. I have therefore re-written the article, which is still available HERE.

Time to Think Judicially

"It is time for the churches to think judicially. It is time to bring an end to the theology of individual license and individual ordination. It is time to issue a warning against all the self-ordained civil magistrates with their shotguns and all the self-anointed home church, family-church ministers who are serving the Lord's Supper to their families." Gary North, from HERE.

Question and Answers about Baptizing Babies

A friend left the following comment on my earlier post about baptizing babies.

Robin, you said, "presumption can be made on the basis of the parents’ faith because of the myriad promises God has given to believing parents concerning the status of their children." What are these promises of which you speak? Are they truly promises of God that a believer's children will not fall away? If so, then is it really presumption? Is it not simply faith in the word of God? If not, then are they promises at all? And if not promises, then there is no basis for this presumption in the first place, as would be present in the case of a professing believer.

I am replying to Wayne's questions here because my response had too many characters to publish as another comment.

Great questions Wayne. The promises God has given to Christian parents which provide them with confidence that their children are part of the visible covenant and are presumptively part of the invisible covenant are manifold. After articulating the glories of the new covenant in his wonderful sermon in Acts 3, Peter ends by declaring, “The promise is to you and to your children.” (Acts 3:39) In his epistle to the Corinthians Paul makes the point that if even one of the parents is a believer then the children are sanctified (1 Corinthians 7:14). Speaking of small children Jesus Himself declares that “of such is the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:16). Then there are all the wonderful promises given to the descendents of Abraham which are addressed “to you and your children” and these can be applied to Gentiles because Gentile believers have now been grafted in to God’s covenant family by faith (Rom. 11:17). The result of Gentiles coming into the covenant is that they are heirs of the covenantal laws and promises of the Old Covenant, including the Abrahamic blessing which always included the children born into covenant families. Paul seems to assume this by quoting promises from the Sinai law and applying them to Gentile children in his letter to the Ephesians (6:1-3). And then, finally, there are the great promises of the Psalms that faithful covenantal parenting will result in faithful children. See Psalm 128, for example, where we are told that he who fears the Lord and walks in His ways will be blessed and that this blessing will extend to his children.

So those are some of the promises of which I speak. These promises do not guarantee that a believer’s children will not fall away, just as the promises of salvation given to individuals do not guarantee that an individual will not fall away. Rather, these promises assume that one is taking and applying these promises by faith, which means faithful covenantal parenting, just as the promises of salvation assume that one is applying and appropriating scripture’s promises by faith which means faithful living. Of course, believing parents can fail to pass on the covenantal blessings, like the generation that followed Joshua (Judges 2:10), and they can raise their children to worship idols (Ezekiel 16:20), but the normal pattern that scripture assumes is that believing parents will be faithful in parenting, which is why Paul makes faithful children a qualification for church leadership (1 Timothy 3:4-5).

So God’s normal instrumental means for bringing children to himself is faithful parenting, which is why it is so unhelpful to expect children of believers to have a conversion experience which is essentially to take a conversion model which applies to those who are not God’s people and apply it to those who are. A baby from a Christian home belongs to God from the moment he or she is born, and if the parents raise the child faithfully (rather than sending them off to be educated by Amorites and Moabites), that child will never be able to remember a time when they didn’t know the Lord. The idea that children of believers have to have a conversion experience is objectionable to me, because it sets the children up for a lifetime of doubt. Of course, they’re going to struggle with doubting their salvation if during the formative years of their life their parents have addressed them as unbelievers, essentially saying, “The verdict is still out on you until you are old enough to decide for yourself.” I have witnessed this in Baptist families and sometimes teenagers feel they need to continually repeat their salvation experience because it wasn’t good enough. Is it really surprising that they doubt their salvation throughout the rest of their life when their parents doubted their salvation for the first 5 or 6 years of their life?

So it is really presumptive, to answer your question. Just as baptize faith-professing adults on the assumption that they will continue faithful and not apostatize, so when we baptize babies we do so on the assumption that their parents will shepherd them faithfully with the consequence that those children will not fall away when older. The promises are not static predictions that can be detached from the presumed life of faith and faithfulness. You are quite right to suggest that it involves “simply faith in the word of God.”

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Baptizing Babies

It is unfortunate that the debates over baptism too often centre on the appropriate mode of baptism when the real issue of importance is that of age. Is there an age when children are too young to be baptized? In particular, should Christian parents baptize their babies?

It is on this question that there is more agreement than we may at first realize between Credo-Baptists and Paedobaptists believe Both are bound to assert that baptism is the outward sign of presumptive forgiveness of sins, presumptive regeneration and presumptive adoption into God’s covenant family. It is presumptive because the person who is baptised may later apostatise, and this remains just as true whether the person in question is a baby or a faith-professing adult. As humans we cannot truly know whether anyone is truly regenerate or a member of the "invisible covenant community" of the elect, since the faith-professing adult may apostatise on his deathbed just as the baptised infant may walk away from the faith when grown. The best we can do is presume that the person being baptized is regenerate. In the case of the faith-professing adult, such presumption can be made on the basis of his or her confession. In the case of the infant, such presumption can be made on the basis of the parents’ faith because of the myriad promises God has given to believing parents concerning the status of their children.

Of course, a Baptist will object that the Biblical cases of baptism are always preceded with confessions of faith. However, it should not be overlooked that in all such cases, someone is entering God’s covenant family from outside, whereas a child of believing parents is never outside but already in, a fact which is testified to by baptising them as soon as possible.


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Monday, June 08, 2009

Lord Waddington on British Thought Control

"There is, right now in this country, an intolerance of Christians of a sort that I never thought I would see. Street preachers are threatened and Christians expressing mainstream orthodox views on sexual behaviour are harassed and abused. A marriage registrar is bullied at work for asking to be excused from civil partnership duties; a housing charity worker is suspended for discussing with a colleague his beliefs about same-sex relationships.

"I fear that, if the Government get their way, not only will this intolerance grow, and those bent on silencing all who disagree with them gain new strength, but many will take the revocation of the safeguard as a signal that voicing views on morality -- even making jokes about homosexuality -- could attract the attention of the police and that they would be wise to keep quiet. People will be reluctant to express their views, when the right to express views, including views that other people might not like, is one of the hallmarks of a free society."

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Is God Necessary for Rights?

Is God necessary for rights? This is a question that was raised in the comments section of my earlier post Richard Dawkins Becomes Emotional Over Gorillas...but not Cabbages.
Following is a conversation that I recently had with a friend (whose name I have changed to Debby to preserve anonymity) on that very subject, in response to a comment I made in my book The Way of a Man with a Maid: A Response to the Courtship and Betrothal Movements. I am sharing the conversation here because of its relevance to the larger question of rights and where we derive them from.
Keep Reading

Julian Rivers on British Equality Legislation

Click HERE to read my articles on state-sanctioned thought control.

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

Now Nanny State Spells End of Pick-You-Own-Fruit

When we lived in England, one of our family's favourite summer activities was to go to a local fruit farm and pick our own fruit. I remember the children and me coming home with huge boxes full of strawberries, raspberries, black and red currents and login berries, which Esther would then cook into delicious concoctions. I have been looking forward to doing that again when we visit merry England. But alas, thanks to the Nanny State, it looks like this will no longer be possible if this article is anything to go by.


"Mere mobs!" repeated his new friend with a snort of scorn. "So you talk about mobs and the working classes as if they were the question. You've got that eternal idiotic idea that if anarchy came it would come from the poor. Why should it? The poor have been rebels, but they have never been anarchists; they have more interest than any one else in there being some decent government. The poor man really has a stake in the country. The rich man hasn't; he can go away to New Guinea in a yacht. The poor have sometimes objected to being governed; the rich have always objected to being governed at all. Aristocrats were always anarchists, as you can see from the barons' wars."

A Passage to India

I've finished reading A Passage to India. It is a most interesting book. Written by E.M. Forster, who is most well known for his novel A Room With A View, this work explores the tensions which existed in British India, anticipating the end of the colonial era. Full of brilliant characterization and postmodern themes.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Selective Condemnation

Paul Hill, convicted of murdering abortionist John Britton and his bodyguard in 1994, considered himself to be a twentieth-century John Brown. Brown, if you recall, was the self-appointed avenger of God who was fond of quoting Hebrews 9:22: “All things are by the law purged with blood, and without shedding of blood is no remission” (KJV). If it took the blood of Americans to purge the sin of slavery from the land, so be it, Brown argued. For his actions, Brown was regarded as a hero by many in the anti-slavery movement of his time.

Keep Reading

Books I've Recently Finished Reading

Monday, June 01, 2009

Sneak Peek of Collision Movie

Why Vigilantism is a Sin

Yesterday morning, George Tiller was shot in the lobby at the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita Kansas, where he was serving as an usher. The 51-year-old killer, Scott Roeder, targeted Dr. Tiller because of his long career performing late-term abortions.

As with the pro-life killings of 1998, the media is milking this incident for all it’s worth, laying the blame at the door of the pro-life movement. Some journalists and bloggers have even implicated the entire pro-life community in the violence, using phrases such as ‘Christian terrorism’ to describe what occurred.

The irony is that implicating Christianity in the bloody deed is rather like cutting off the branch of the tree on which you are sitting. This is because the Biblical worldview, and not the relativistic ethics of the pro-choice movement, alone provides us with a consistent platform for condemning the murder.

Why the Murder of George Tiller Was Wrong

It was wrong of Scott Roader to kill George Tiller, but not because Dr. Tiller was innocent. On the contrary, if anyone deserved to die, it was Dr. Tiller. Medical director of Women's Health Care Services clinic in Wichita, Dr. Tiller was one of the only doctors in America providing abortions to women in the 21st week of pregnancy. Using a method he developed called MOLD, Dr. Tiller would pierce a baby’s beating heart with a long needle, injecting a deadly drug called Digoxin. By artificially dilating the cervix, Tiller would deliver the dead baby. Before disposing of the corpse, Tiller would then offer the mother the option to cuddle the corpse and have their picture taken together before disposing of the body.

Having performed this procedure hundreds of times in the course of his career, Dr. Tiller clearly stood in breach of the sixth commandment and was deserving of the death penalty. But while God entrusts the civil magistrate with the right and responsibility to execute lawful vengeance on those who practice evil (Romans 13:4), He does not give that right to individual citizens. Even when the state becomes rebellious and gives legal sanction to the murder of innocent life, that does not give Christians the right to take the law into their own hands. The Bible does not call for Christians to rise up as self-appointed executioners, disregarding the judicial and legal parameters God has established in this world. Such vigilantism, if consistently applied, must eventually lead to more than merely shooting an abortion doctor. Indeed, if it is really true that the Lord looks to any and all unauthorized individual to enforce justice through violence, then we would be obligated to gun down all the Supreme Court justices and legislators who have not voted to outlaw abortion, and to gun down the police who try to prevent such actions. The consistent vigilante need not even stop there, as the same logic could sanction the systematic killing of all the voters who support pro-choice politicians, since they are equally to blame for our culture of death. In short, a consistent outworking of vigilantism leads naturally to a declaration of war against the entire state. In fact, it must go even further: if Christians are authorized to defy the law and cleanse the world of abortions through violence, then national border have no more relevance than national laws, and lone-gunners not only have a mandate to roam the international community in search of abortion practitioners to assassinate, but they must seek to overthrow all the world’s legal systems that have allowed abortion in the first place. In short, they must be content with nothing less than worldwide anarchical revolution.

The Bible gives a different answer. God has established various spheres of authority in the world through which the lines of responsibility flow. When the state seeks to bypass its lawful sphere of authority and legislate on matters affecting the church and family that is usurpation. Similarly, Scott Roeder was usurping the role of the state when he assumed a role that belongs properly to the state-sanction public executioner.

The Arbitrary Ethics of the Abortion Lobby

We have seen that the murder of George Tiller is clearly incompatible with the Biblical worldview. A question which remains is whether the deadly deed is incompatible with the secular humanist worldview of the pro-abortion lobby. Having spent over half a decade trying to convince Americans that life and death issues should be matters of ‘choice’, the abortion industry has suddenly come out of the closet in defence of life. Why does the relativistic paradigm that has become a truism of pro-abortion ethics have a basis for pronouncing that the murder of Dr. Tiller is objectively wrong in a way that the slaughter of unborn innocents is not?

The common reply, of course, is that the murder was wrong for the same reason that the pro-life movement is wrong: because both fail to show tolerance to competing viewpoints. However, it is hard to know how seriously we are meant to take this line of reasoning, coming as it does from a liberal community that has been saying for the past 100 years that abolitionist violence was justified. Furthermore, if tolerance is taken to be an absolute, unmodified by any higher ethical principle, then shouldn’t we be equally tolerant of Mr. Roeder, who exercised his ‘choice’ when he decided to murder Tiller on Sunday morning?

Consider further: American abortion activists have built their case almost exclusively on an appeal to positive law rather than moral law (arguing that abortion is not murder because the Supreme Court, allegedly acting on the basis of the constitution, has declared that it is not murder). However, if there is no transcendent moral code to which even the Supreme Court must show deference, then on what basis do we assert that the Supreme Court can arbitrarily decide when murder is justified and when it is not? Now here’s the rub: when Scott Roeder murdered Dr. Tiller, he was doing nothing other than what the supreme court had already implicitly acknowledged that human beings can do. He was arbitrarily deciding that he was justified to murder Dr. Tiller, just as the Supreme court arbitrarily decided that murder is justified in the case of unborn babies. Doug Wilson commented on this irony, saying, “we condemn the murder of Tiller now, like good citizens, but we will only do so unless and until the targeted murder of such individuals is determined by the Supreme Court to be a consitutional right we didn't know we had.... Well, no, because the Supreme Court doesn't have the authority to declare murder okay, and only ghastly human beings like Tiller think they do. When such men take the Supremes up on their invitation to any slaughter that has been given the legal okay, they are helping to create a society in which lawlessness reigns. They cooperate with those who frame mischief with a law. But once this lawlessness has taken root, the bright boys running everything start to discover that lawlessness has certain shortcomings as a social theory.”

The Myth of Secular Tolerance

The murder of Dr. Tiller by a fundamentalist Christian has seemed to give credence to the growing idea that religious believers are instinctively intolerant, whereas tolerance comes naturally to the secular mind. Such stereotyping resurfaces every time a high-profile event of religious violence occurs, allegedly confirmation that Christianity and politics must be kept strictly separate for society’s safety. As Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee put it: “The horrible history of Christianity shows that whenever religion grabs temporal power it turns lethal. Those who believe theirs is the only way, truth and light will kill to create their heavens on earth if they get the chance.” Richard Dawkins has argued similarly: “To fill a world with religion, or religions of the Abrahamic kind, is like littering the streets with loaded guns. Do not be surprised if they are used.”

The most charitable response to these statements is that they are simply naive. Not only has the past three hundred years witnessed a long pedigree of secular and atheist-motivated violence, but the secular worldview offers no hedge against those who would use violence to try to create utopia on earth. While we can say that the Spanish Inquisition and the anti-Semitic violence of the Crusades were not consistent with the Christian worldview (and resulted, ironically, from a failure to impose true Biblical values onto society), Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro and Kim Jong-il and Dr. Tiller have all realized the logical consequence of a worldview in which there is no higher authority than the state. The philosopher John Gray (himself a non-believer) highlighted this when he pointed out that

"The role of humanist thought in shaping the past century’s worst regimes is easily demonstrable, but it is passed over, or denied, by those who harp on about the crimes of religion. Yet the mass murders of the 20th century were not perpetrated by some latter-day version of the Spanish Inquisition. They were done by atheist regimes in the service of Enlightenment ideas of progress. Stalin and Mao were not believers in original sin. Even Hitler, who despised Enlightenment values of equality and freedom, shared the Enlightenment faith that a new world could be created by human will. Each of these tyrants imagined that the human condition could be transformed through the use of science."


Although the guilt for George Tiller’s murder is being hung on the shoulders of the Christian community, it is only from the standpoint of a Christian ethic that we have any basis for saying that the murder was objectively wrong. Further, from the standpoint of all history, it is the secular humanists, not the Christians, who have blood on their hands. We should not allow this truth to be obscured merely because a vigilante Christian has taken it upon himself to kill the mass murderer Dr. Tiller.


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