When I write these Word of the Week blog entries, one of the first places I start is my Dictionary of Theological Terms. It gives concise definition of more than 5500 terms, so it’s a great place to start. So for this blog, I looked up “baptism” - and I found 19 different terms with “baptism” in them! Among them are the different types of baptism, different beliefs about it, and even specific baptisms (like Jesus’). Obviously, this term has many different connotations and meanings to it!
The basic definition for baptism is “to dip in water,” and it’s from the Greek root verb baptidzo. This is one of those words that the early church kept from the Greek language, rather than translating it to an English equivalent, because there was no English equivalent for it. The definition in my Dictionary goes on to say that baptism is “initiation into the Christian faith through a worship ceremony in which water is applied by sprinkling, pouring, or immersion while the Trinitarian formula is spoken.” Some of you reading this are nodding your heads in agreement, while others are probably saying Huh?!?
Baptism is discussed a number of times in the New Testament, and it is an outward sign of adopting the Christian faith. Over the centuries, many different forms of baptism have developed. The three different styles are sprinkling drops of water on the person’s forehead, pouring water on their head, or immersing them in a pool of water. The early church only practiced immersion; the other methods developed later on. The reason for the sprinkling and pouring methods were because of the people being baptized. Initially, it was adults or older children being baptized once they professed the faith. However, there was a growing belief that young infants should be baptized as well, rather than waiting until they were old enough to understand. That way, it is believed, should they die in their infancy, they would assuredly be saved. It’s near impossible to tell an infant to hold his or her breath as you dunk them under water, hence they began to sprinkle or pour water on the infant’s head. There are many church traditions today that practice each of these methods.
The next element of the definition is that the Trinitarian formula is spoken. This comes from what Jesus said as part of His Great Commission to the disciples in Matthew 28:19: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus gave us clear instructions about in whose name we should baptize, and to my knowledge all faith traditions follow this.
Baptism is an important step in the life of any Christian. It signifies that a person is ready to show the world that they are a true follower of Jesus Christ and desire the salvation that only He can give.
John 3:16. That's a simple reference that I highly doubt I need to quote here. It is probably the most widely-recognized verse in the entire Bible. It has been both championed publicly and mocked publicly in the world of pop culture. I am very familiar with at least one instance of each. When I was in high school, I was briefly a fan of the WWF (which became the WWE), mainly because they came to our local arena. I can remember that at the time, the biggest star in the business was Stone Cold Steve Austin. While he was a fan favorite, he unfortunately mocked the most recognizable Bible verse with his catch phrase and T-shirts that said "Austin 3:16". He also attached a saying to his reference which I will not repeat here. On the positive side of things, it wasn't that long ago that Denver Broncos' quarterback Tim Tebow used his somewhat miraculous winning streak as a platform to champion his faith in Jesus Christ. The culmination of his run was when his team defeated my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs in a game where Tebow threw for exactly 316 yards, causing many to once again make the connection between his faith in the only begotten Son and his football success. Whether the reference has been mocked, misused, or championed, it is no doubt the most recognizable Bible verse.
But I think Christians and non-Christians alike have a major problem with pulling verses out of their context and losing a lot of their meaning. Just to give you one other example, many of us know that Jeremiah 29:11 speaks of God's promise to "prosper us and not harm us". However, most of those people fail to realize that in the verse immediately before that, God tells Israel that "seventy years will be completed for Babylon" (Jeremiah 29:10). If you don't believe me, look it up for yourself! This was my point last week. We don't have authority to pick what we want from the Bible and leave out the rest. God DID promise to bless Israel, but He also promised seventy years of captivity before the prosperity. He promises us heaven, but He also promises that we'll have trouble in this world before we get to heaven. How tragic it is when we mislead ourselves and others by pulling the "feel-good" verses out of context and ignore the ones that present a hard truth!
I make that point regarding our opening reference, which contains our Word of the Week - BEGOTTEN, because I believe many more are the people who can quote the verse than those who can talk about the context in which Jesus uses it. While I'm not discounting the fact that the Holy Spirit speaks even through verses that we pull out of context, knowing the meaning of this verse within its context is life-altering. While most older translations of the verse use words like "begotten", "whosoever", and "believeth", the New International Version translates "only begotten Son" as "one and only Son". As Katie pointed out in Monday's blog, this is important because he's not just the only son of a father who is like any other father who has an only child, but moreso because he is the one and only Son of the Father! He's the only one of his kind because of his relationship to the Creator of the whole world. He's the only one of his kind because he's the only one who is perfect and could thus serve as our Savior. This point is made clearer by the context of the passage. The reference that we all learn to quote as kids is in the middle of Jesus' response to a very important question brought to him by the Pharisee, Nicodemus.
In John 3, we see that Nicodemus goes to Jesus at night, most likely because he knew such a decision would be frowned upon by his fellow Pharisees (it should give us reason to pause and think about the ways in which we have been half-committed to Christ due to fear of the wordly consequences). Jesus then introduces the concept of being "born again" and says no one can see the kingdom of God otherwise (v. 3). Obviously perplexed, Nicodemus asks Jesus to explain how it is possible for a man to be "born again" when he is already old (I wish we'd all ask that question more often rather than asking how we can be saved from eternal damnation without having to give up very much of what we want). Jesus then gives a lengthy answer which includes the reference with which I opened. In the verses just before it, Jesus says, "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life" (John 3:14-15). Wow! Who knew that a passage from Numbers would have such significance to the most famous verse of all time! Jesus sets up said verse by reminding Nicodemus (and us) that there was a time when God's people were suffering from something they could not escape on their own. In Numbers 21, we see where many Israelites were dying because they had been bitten by venomous snakes. Their only hope was for God to show mercy to them. Moses prayed and God told him to make a bronze snake and put it up on a pole so that anyone who looked up at it could live. Anyone who chose not to follow God's instruction died. So in reality, the bronze snake was the "one and only" way for the people to be saved. It was used as both a literal savior for the Israelites at the time, and a foreshadowing of the one and only Son who would be hung on a cross so that whoever believes that he is in fact our only way to escape the penalty of sin is saved. It's quite simple: just as the bronze snake was the Israelites' only hope, so Christ is ours.
Through the context that many of us didn't know and the verse that we all did, Jesus explains to Nicodemus and the entire future of the human race that the only begotten Son is our "one and only" hope to be set free from the "snake" that we cannot escape on our own. Friends, it's not just a phrase or verse we quote to evangelize or declare our faith. The context explains just how hopeless we would be without it. You can search all you want for other ways to escape sin and its penalty, but NOTHING else can rescue you! May we all look at our lives and realize the other "saviors" we have pursued.
Being raised in Lutheran church and school for my entire childhood, the first thing I think of when I see the word “begotten” is a brief phrase from the Nicene Creed: “begotten, not made.” This particular context refers to Jesus as being the Son of God; He was begotten, not made or created.
But what does begotten mean? Literally, it means “fathered by.” It is often seen in genealogies in Scripture; so-and-so begot so-and-so, who begot so-and-so, et cetera. For example, I was begotten by my father, and you were begotten by your father.
How does this relate to your faith, you may ask? Good question! There are two ways this word is important.
First, those genealogies I mentioned earlier are really important. We may have a tendency to gloss over them because they seem boring when we don’t know those names, but they are proof that Jesus is the Messiah. I was recently studying the genealogy in Ruth 4:18-22 with the student to whom I teach Biblical Hebrew. As he put it, it’s those verses that make the entire book worthwhile - the story of Ruth is so important because it leads to the genealogy of Jesus! There are many similar genealogies in the Bible, especially in Matthew 1, that are key to showing us that Jesus had a real bloodline and thus was truly human. They also show fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies about the bloodline of the Messiah, thus proving that Jesus was truly the Messiah.
Second, the word begotten is used of Jesus’ relationship with the Father. In John 1:14 (NASB) it says, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Similarly, John 3:16 (NASB) also refers to Jesus in this way: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” These verses are important for a few reasons. They identify Jesus as the ONLY begotten Son of the Father. There is only one Son, and thus there is only one Savior! They also tell us that although He was fathered by God Himself, Jesus was still a man among us. Because of these things, He was able to save us from our sin because He was truly God and truly man. Earlier in John 1, it says how Jesus was there before the creation of the world, and therefore we know He was not a created being such as ourselves. He was “begotten, not made” like the Nicene creed states.
While the word begotten is not one that we typically use in everyday modern language, as you can see it is definitely an important one to our Christian faith!
I think we all know that “authority” is not a word we’re particularly fond of unless we are the ones that have it. As humans, our pride makes us want to have control, power, and authority, even though we often don’t want the burden of responsibility that comes with it. This culture exists as much within the Church as it does everywhere else. Godly men and women in leadership positions are led astray by their need to keep whatever control they think they have (I say it that way because almost all control is an illusion anyway). The consequences of this problem, including but not limited to major divisions in the Church, can extend for many years. It is sad that we must face this reality considering that the Apostle Paul clearly tells us that “Christ is the head (singular) of the church” (Ephesians 5:23).
Here’s the thing about any type of authority: It always belongs to the author! Did you ever think about the fact that “authority” obviously has the same origin as “author”? I’m guessing you haven’t because in our culture, the two words are used in different contexts. But in fact, they both originate from the Latin auctor meaning “creator” or “originator”. Therefore, authority belongs first and foremost to the creator of whatever it is we are talking about, and then secondarily to those who accurately carry out the design of the creator. Dr. James Naismith invented the game of basketball. People with present authority can tweak some of the rules, but no one except James Naismith would really have the authority to change the fundamentals of the game (i.e. shooting at a hoop, dribbling, defending). Founders/owners of businesses don’t have to ask anyone when they can take a vacation or how much they can charge, but I do because I work for an employer. The founding fathers of the United States established laws as they saw fit, and this is why it’s a shame to see anytime our present lawmakers are not consistent with our founding fathers, regardless of which political side it is.
While the preceding examples are not necessarily related to the Bible, the same concept is true with Biblical authority. God is not only the Creator of the Bible, but also of those whom He used to physically write it, and of those who read it! So, simply put, God has authority over the writing, reading, and applying of His Word. We have NO AUTHORITY to change it or tweak it, only to carry it out if we are consistent with the design of its original Creator. When we try to make it say something that it does not say in order to fit OUR design, we are usurping authority that is not given to us and we will suffer the consequences. Well-known examples of this would include justifying slavery, polygamy, abuse, homosexuality, and oppression.
God is not only the originator of the Bible, but also of the very faith that we have. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2 [NIV]). As Christians, we must remember with humility the origin of not only our authority, but also the very faith that we profess. With this in mind, how can we ever be arrogant in our dealings with others? How can we not be compassionate, knowing that what we have was given to us out of love? How can we not speak truth, knowing that to tweak it to our liking removes all legitimate authority ever given to us by the One who wrote it? I challenge you to consider these questions as you think about your handling of the Bible.
Authority. It’s one of those words that a lot of people dread. After all, why else would people run from the authorities, or complain about having to submit to authority? We as humans typically prefer our independence, and not have to be under an authority of any sort. While it’s important for all people to obey the authorities put in place over them, such as the police, parents, teachers, or your boss, those of us who are Christians need to obey another authority as well - the Bible.
Everything you believe in life, whether Christian or not, all boils down to one question: what is your source of authority? In other words, why do you believe what you believe, and where did those beliefs originate from? Christians have four places where our source of authority can be, and for most people it’s a combination of all four but not with equal weight. Those four places are the Scriptures, tradition, reason, and experience.
The Scriptures are, of course, the Holy Bible. I consider this to be the Old and New Testaments. Tradition is not just those things the church does all the time but rather the tradition of theologians that have gone before us. Tradition relies on all of the collective wisdom gained by Biblical scholars throughout the last few centuries. Reason is our intellect and how our brains are designed to use logic to figure things out. Finally, experience is those things that have happened in your life that made a big impact on the person you are today.
For me, my primary source of authority is most definitely the Bible. Last week’s post gives many of my reasons for this, but the most important one is because I believe it to be the inspired Word of God. It governs all aspects of my life and instructs me how to live so I can be a true Christ follower and worship God with my life, which is what I desire to do.
However, a person who is not a Christian would obviously have a different source of authority for their life. Perhaps it could be a book from another religion, or relying solely on their own intellect, or others around them. A person’s source of authority affects everything they think, believe, say, and do in their life, whether they realize it or not.
It is important to understand what the source of authority is in your life.
Is it the Bible? Or is it something else?
How trustworthy is your source of authority?
Why is it your authority?
Even if you don’t acknowledge one particular thing as your source of authority, investigate your life and try and figure out why you have the beliefs you have. Knowing your source of authority, and knowing that of those you are in conversation with, will help you understand both yourself and others much better.
One little side note from Jason DeZurik: For our atheists friends who read these, we know some of you say you have "lack of belief" and not belief. We hear you and are doing our best to undertand what you are saying. We would ask though that you please understand that your life is still based on something. So, please do an honest assessment of what is your source of authority? Thanks for reading and have a great day.
Posted by Worldview Warriors On Thursday, February 9, 2012 2 comments
"Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth". That is probably the best description of the contents of the Good Book that I have ever heard (especially since it's a clever and fitting acronym). There has never been, nor will there ever be another work quite like it. Its content, validity, and truth can be disputed by those who do not have faith in it, but what cannot be disputed is its impact on the world and its effect on people of all ages and generations. I've spent a lot of time studying this book for a wide variety of reasons and settings. When I stop and think about what makes the Bible different from any other book ever written, it's rather obvious both on a faith level AND a logic level.
The thing that separates the Bible from every other book that is obvious on the faith level is, as Katie pointed out in Monday's blog, that it is "God-breathed", or inspired by God Himself. If you have chosen to put your faith in God and His Son Jesus Christ, He gives you the gift of the Holy Spirit which allows you to see what you could not see before, particularly that God worked through people, places, and events all throughout Scripture to bring glory to His name and abundant life for all who follow Him. If you have resisted and not chosen to put your faith in Him but are instead waiting for more proof, you are not able to see the obviousness of His inspiration of Scripture. It's that simple. You may be one who is wondering whether God wrote the Bible or humans did. While we know humans physically wrote down the words, you cannot understand God's involvement in it until AFTER you have chosen to believe by faith.
But as I mentioned, there is something about the Bible that separates it from all other books that is obvious to even those who have not put their faith in God. In this world, there are tons of books that are separated into specific genres so that we can find exactly what we are looking for when we go to a bookstore. Children's Literature is separate from History, which is separate from Mystery, which is separate from Religious, which is separate from Romance, etc. However, in this one book we know as the Bible, all of these genres are INCLUDED in the one, giant redemption story! Think about it. What other book can be at times understood by little children, and at other times misunderstood by doctors, teachers, and scholars? Jesus himself reflected on this after realizing that the very towns from which his disciples came and where many of his miracles took place were unrepentant. "At that time Jesus said, 'I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure'" (Matthew 11:25-26 [NIV]).
As I'm sure many of you have as well, I've seen this in my own life and those close to me. One of the earliest books I remember being exposed to as a kid was the Bible. While I couldn't understand much of it, there were basic truths I learned, such as God's love for me and the need for me to love others. I grew up being part of the church and its youth group and eventually went to seminary. I graduated from seminary this past August and have certainly grown in my knowledge and understanding of the Bible. However, the most important thing I came to realize about the Bible was that, the more I learn, the more I realize there's still so much I've yet to learn. One of the most influential people in my life concerning that reality was my Hebrew professor at Winebrenner Theological Seminary, Dr. Gary Staats. He "knows" more about the Bible than anyone I've ever met, by a long shot. He's been studying the ORIGINAL LANGUAGES of the Bible for more years than I've been alive. Yet, the amazing thing is that he still studies it every single day and learns new and exciting truths. In his own words, he has "barely scratched the surface". I contrast Dr. Staats with my adopted nieces and nephew, who came into my life after being adopted by my brother and his wife. They've experienced so much brokenness in their short time on this earth due to the bad choices of their biological parents, yet I see the impact of the Bible on their lives. My nephew (age 7) picked his new name to be "Joseph Joshua", because he read about two men in the Bible whom he really liked. My youngest niece Amanda (age 3) already has most of the song "Jesus Loves Me" down and it is truly a joy to hear her sing it. The one part she never messes up is "the Bible tells me so".
Just to recap, my niece, who has received very little love by anyone in her life for her first two and a half years and who can barely understand my brother's house rules, has already begun to understand the Biblical truth that Jesus loves her. My seminary professor, who has forgotten more about the Bible than I'll ever know, learns new things about it every day. Friends, there's just no other book you can say this about. It's impact on the whole world is obvious, even if you choose not to believe in it. The Bible is a love story, a history lesson, a mystery novel, a religious guide, a children's classic, and a scholarly work ALL AT THE SAME TIME! Wherever you are on your faith journey, I pray you understand just how special this book of "Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth" really is!
“The B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the book for me! I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E!”
I have many fond memories of singing that children’s song in Sunday School, both as a small child and as a teenager helping in my mom’s kindergarten class. As a small child, I didn’t really understand the lyrics - especially that stand alone part - but it was still a cool song because you got to stand up when you said that phrase!
Thinking back to that song now that I’m an adult, those words really are powerful. I place my faith on this book alone - this book that was written many centuries ago, and penned by ordinary humans - over 40 of them actually! Some of the books within the Bible are as old as 1450 B.C., while the newer ones are dated to the 1st century A.D. It is made up of a total of 66 individual books - 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. Despite this span of time and variety of books and authors, it is still one cohesive work. The Bible is considered to be the most best-selling book in the entire world, although in many countries a person can be arrested or worse simply for owning it. It has been translated into 2,018 different languages.
Those facts are pretty impressive, but what else makes this book so special?
The best answer I have to this question is found within the Bible itself. According to 2 Timothy 3:16-17:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Let’s pick that passage apart a bit. First of all, it is “God-breathed.” That means that the words are truly inspired by God. Yes, human hands physically wrote them down, but God gave them direction and inspiration as to what to write. Second, it is useful for many things - teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training. Why? So that the servant of God may be equipped. The Bible equips us, as God’s servants, to do the work that He has prepared for us to do.
Compared to other ancient writings from similar time period, the Bible has the most archaeological evidence. Even though we do not have the original autographs of the Scriptures, we have at least portions of many early copies. Many modern archaeologists have made discoveries that confirm what the Bible says. Not only that, there is no other book in recorded history that contains so many prophecies that were fulfilled.
But, the best part about the Bible is that through it, we can come to know the Creator of the entire universe, and to receive salvation from Jesus, the Redeemer of all humankind! I have never read another book that is so powerful and life-changing, because it is not simply words on a page when the God’s Spirit dwells in the one reading it. The Bible is my primary authority by which I base my decisions in life, and next week we will discuss that aspect in more depth.
The B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the book for me!
Posted by Worldview Warriors On Thursday, February 2, 2012 0 comments
I think we could probably all agree that one of the most annoying types of people in the world is the apologist. You know who I'm talking about. This person exists in many areas of life. It's the guy who is always making excuses for why he or his team lost. "The referees made bad calls". "The injuries were impossible to overcome". "The weather was awful". Finally, the absolute worst in my opinion: "There's a conspiracy against my team and it's obvious that the authorities just simply don't want us to win". If you are a sports fan like me, you may have used these excuses before. You may also, like me, be completely annoyed at those who say these things rather than just simply admitting that their favorite team got beat fairly, especially when their favorite team is the one you can't stand! The apologist also exists in the realm of politics. He rips the candidate from the opposing party for getting caught in a scandal, and then makes excuses for the candidate he supports who ends up in a similar situation. I could go on, but you get the point. An apologist is annoying in any area of life because he is completely irrational, and the only one who can't see it is him!
Those of you who are reading this and do not profess to be believers may feel that Christians are apologists according to the description I gave above. You feel that our claims are unfounded, unsupported, and irrational. You feel that we sit back and "make excuses" for things in the Bible or the Church that do not seem to be consistent with the God we serve. Because we remain steadfast in our faith, you may see us as annoying apologists. I'd like to explain why we do not fit into that judgment and maybe even more clearly explain something about our faith in the process.
As Katie pointed out in Monday's blog, "apologetics" simply refers to the process of defending something, more specifically the Christian faith for the purpose of these blogs. While we will always defend our faith in Jesus Christ as the only one who can save us from our sins and give us hope and abundant life, that does NOT mean that we become apologists for those who have used the Christian faith to justify all kinds of evil. We also don't need to defend every apparent contradiction in the Bible. The goal of our "apologetics" is not to prove ourselves right and everyone else wrong. Instead, we aim to offer the rest of the world the same defense that we have. We will not apologize for our faith (as Jason said), but we also will not apologize for our failures in the sense that we try to defend or justify ourselves. Romans 3:23-24 explains that "all have sinned...and are JUSTIFIED FREELY by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus". You see, when we talk about "defending our faith", it has nothing to do with what we have done, what we have discovered, or how we are correct. We are actually defending our belief in the fact that we have no defense, and therefore needed Christ to be our "apology" for us. "God made him who had no sin to be sin (literally a sin offering) for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21 [NIV]).
For those of you who want to argue with Christians about all the problems religion has caused or all the apparent contradictions in the Bible (which only exist because of human translation), please realize that many of us know why we believe what we believe. We also know many followers of Christ do not seem to know what they believe and why they believe it. We here at Worldview Warriors are not looking to prove anything though or "win" an argument. We engage in these conversations because we desperately want the whole world to understand the hope, love, and "apology" we have in Christ. I can't speak for all Christians worldwide obviously, but I can speak for myself and the others who are part of this organization that puts out these blogs. Hopefully, if you've been reading these blogs, whether you consider yourself a follower of Christ of not, you have seen that we are not apologists. We make no excuses for our mistakes or those of the Church. We don't seek to place ourselves above anyone, including those who don't agree with our faith. Instead, we seek to offer what we have to everyone, because we believe that without this "defense", we would all be doomed. Looking at things this way, you might realize that our failures are not a reason to reject Christ. In actuality, they are a reason to turn to him completely. I once heard someone say it this way: "How amazing is the God we serve, that He would take a group of people (Church) like that who are complete messes and love them, nurture them, train them, and send them out to bring Him glory!" I can't remember who said that, but it hit the nail on the head. Whether you are a Christian or not, I hope and pray that you will stop looking to defend yourself or YOUR thoughts and turn to the One who through obedience on the cross became the only "apology" we will ever need.