To most people in our society, Christianity is religion and moralism. The only alternative to it (besides some other world religion) is pluralistic secularism. But from the beginning it was not so. Christianity was recognized as a tertium quid, something else entirely.
The crucial point here is that, in general, religiously observant people were offended by Jesus, but those estranged from religious and moral observance were intrigued and attracted to him. We see this throughout the New Testament accounts of Jesus’s life. In every case where Jesus meets a religious person and a sexual outcast (as in Luke 7) or a religious person and a racial outcast (as in John 3-4) or a religious person and a political outcast (as in Luke 19), the outcast is the one who connects with Jesus and the elder-brother type does not. Jesus says to the respectable religious leaders “the tax collectors and the prostitutes enter the kingdom before you” (Matthew 21:31).
Jesus’s teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren’t appealing to younger brothers, they must be more full of elder brothers than we’d like to think.
Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God (pp. 17-19).
To remove from this world to the Father. This phrase is worthy of notice; for it refers to the knowledge of Christ, that he knew that his death was a passage to the heavenly kingdom of God. And if, while he was hastening thither, he did not cease to regard his own with his wonted love, there is no reason why we should now think that his affection is changed. Now, since he is the first-born from the dead, this definition of death applies to the whole body of the Church, that it is an opening or passage to go to God, from whom believers are now absent.
John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentary on the Gospel according to John, vol. 2, 54.
There is no point in trying to hide the fact that the Bible has been used by Americans to justify both race-based, demeaning slavery and its abolition. Mark Noll’s book God and Race in American Politics: A Short History clarifies this painful confession. With an eye for concrete (incarnational) stories and meticulous historical detail, Noll is above all a seer of the both-and. Or call it paradox. Or historical conundrum. There are no simple explanations.
The thesis of Noll’s book is: “Together, race and religion make up, not only the nation’s deepest and most enduring moral problem, but also its broadest and most enduring political influence.” That is provocative enough. But his working out of how race and religion are interwoven is where the puzzles come. For example, “Before the Civil War, religion drove abolitionist assaults upon slavery even as it under-girded influential defenses of slavery in both the North and the South.” Agonizingly both-and, not comfortably either-or….
It is fitting that we frankly confess that Christians—we Christians—have often used our Bible to justify sinful attitudes and actions. We have done it in our personal lives, and we have done it in the larger structural dimensions of life.
John Piper, Bloodlines (pg. 228).
I have great respect and affection for Paedobaptist Christians who argue along these lines. Some of them are my close friends or historical heroes. And the arguments [for paedobaptism] I’ve sketched above display careful attention to Scripture and reverence of Scripture. Yet I don’t think they’re persuasive. Here are six reasons why.
- Paedobaptism applies the sign of union with Christ to those who are not united to Christ. It divorces the sign from the reality.
- Paedobaptism confuses being born of Christian parents with being born again by the Spirit.
- Paedobaptism mistakenly assumes that God is forming his new covenant people the same way he formed his old covenant people.
- Paedobaptism undermines the church’s saltiness and lightness (Matt. 5:13-16).
- Paedobaptism dissolves two crucial differences between baptism and circumcision.
- Paedobaptism makes God’s new covenant promise less than a promise.
Bobby Jamieson, Understanding Baptism (pg. 25-35).
The Lord instructs us to do good to all people throughout the entire world, many of whom are unworthy of such good if judged by their own merit. But Scripture comes to our rescue with the best of reasons for doing good to all people. It teaches us not to regard others according to their own merits, but to consider in them the image of God to which we owe both honor and love. But the image of God should be more diligently regarded in those who are of the household of faith, because it has been renewed and restored in them by the Spirit of Christ.
Therefore, you have no cause to evade anyone who stands before you and needs your service. Suppose he’s a stranger. The Lord, however, has stamped him with his own mark that’s familiar to you, and for that reason God forbids you to despise your own flesh. Suppose he is contemptible and worthless. The Lord, however, shows him to be one whom He has condescended to decorate with His own image.
John Calvin, A Little Book on the Christian Life (pgs. 40-41).
In his book, Love in Hard Places, Don Carson tells us, “Ideally… the church itself is not made up of natural ‘friends.’ It is made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politic, common ancestry, common accents, common jobs, or anything else of that sort….In this light, they are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.”
A church composed of natural friends says little about the power of the gospel. Yet the gospel-revealing community of natural enemies will require sacrifices of every aspect of our life together.
Jamie Dunlop and Mark Dever, The Compelling Community (pgs. 80-81).
The state may tolerate a vague, generic, nonthreatening religion, but there is, as one Revolution-era preacher put it, “nothing more obnoxious to an established religion than the gospel of Jesus Christ.” In the fullness of time, a spiritually-empowered Caesar will decide that gospel preaching shouldn’t happen, if it disturbs the commerce of the silversmiths of Artemis (Acts 19:21-41), and it always does. The kind of religion the state, any state, will support will always be a “God and country” civil religion that supports the agenda of the politicians. That’s true if we hand over the power to outlaw religious convictions and practices or if we expect the government to write prayers for our schools. Do we really believe that unregenerate people can approach God, without a Mediator, to pray? If not, why would we ask the government to force people to pretend to do so?
This sort of agenda can only exist in the illusion of an America that is itself born-again, through and through. That illusion is over, and happily so. Once a religion has become a means to an end, of national unity or public morality or anything else, it is no longer a supernatural encounter with God and is just another program. That’s why we ought to always be wary of government seeking to “bless” us with state-written “nondenominational” prayers or with direct funding for our religious initiatives (which inevitably cut out the gospel-centered heart of these initiatives). A Christless civil religion of ceremonial Deism freezes the witness of the church into something useless at best, pagan at best. Government-run doxology cannot regenerate a soul, or resurrect a corpse.
Russell Moore, Onward (pg. 149-150).
To fail to associate ourselves in a lasting and committed way with the Head of the church by joining his body is surely a sign of ingratitude, whether from an uninformed or a dull heart. We who have the privilege of living in countries where we may freely join a local church should keep this admonition from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in mind:
It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s Word and sacrament. Not all Christians receive this blessing. The imprisoned, the sick, the scattered lonely, the proclaimers of the Gospel in heathen lands stand alone. They know that visible fellowship is a blessing. They remember, as the Psalmist did, how they went “with the multitude…to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday” (Ps.42:4)…Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living in common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.
Thabiti Anyabwile, What is a Healthy Church Member?, (pgs. 70-71) quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together.
Baptism reflects all three aspects of a disciple’s identity [rational, relational, and missional], with particular emphasis on missional. First, baptism is a sign that we have learned the gospel. It signifies our identification with Christ in his death as we are lowered into his “watery grave,” and identification with his life, where we are raised up into his resurrection life (Rom 6:4).
Second, we are baptized into two overlapping communities. The first is the divine community of the Trinity: “Baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19). The second community is the church: “For in one spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor 12:13). Baptism results in a new spiritual family–the family of the Trinity.
Third, baptism is missional because it is the outcome of obedience to the Gospel Commission. If sent disciples don’t share the gospel in the power and authority of Jesus, then people don’t get to respond by repentance, faith and baptism.
In a sense, baptism is the end of the Gospel Commission and, at the same time, it is its beginning. Baptism begins our participation in wonderful gospel mission. Whenever someone is baptized, another disciple is sent in the power and authority of Jesus to join the mission of making disciples of all nations.
Jonathan K. Dodson, Gospel-Centered Discipleship (pg. 32-33).
So, first of all, Christians must be like their neighbors in the food they eat and clothes they wear, their dialect, general appearance, work life, recreational and cultural activities, and civic engagement. They participate fully in life with their neighbors. Christians should also be like their neighbors with regard to excellence. That is, Christians should be very good at what others want to be good at. They should be skillful, diligent, resourceful, and disciplined.
Second, Christians must be also unlike their neighbors. In key ways, the early Christians were startlingly different from their neighbors; it should be no different for us today. Christians should be marked by integrity. Believers must be known for being scrupulously honest, transparent, and fair. Followers of Christ should also be marked by generosity. If employers, they should take less personal profit so customers and employees have more pay. As citizens, they should be philanthropic and generous with their time and with the money they donate for the needy. They should consider living below their potential lifestyle level. Believers should also be known for their hospitality, welcoming others into their homes, especially neighbors and people with needs. They should be marked by sympathy and avoid being known as self-serving or even ruthless in business or personal dealings. They should be marked by an unusual willingness to forgive and seek reconciliation, not by a vengeful or spiteful spirit.
Timothy J. Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (pg. 282-283).