Fragments of a Memoir

I Did Not Expect This: Confessions of a Paedobaptist

I couldn’t tell you how many people told my wife and I that things would be different once we had a baby.  I reassured them that we were prepared.  My wife is one of seven and had been taking care of kids her entire life.  I was raised around kids and while all the other guys I went to high school with had part time jobs at Domino’s, I spent a few evenings a week playing Thomas the Tank Engine with a 3 year old while his mom went to the grocery store and the laundromat because her husband was in Iraq and she needed and evening to do errands.  I even had the songs memorized.  I was good.  We were prepared.  We had our gameplan.  We knew what we were doing.  However, I didn’t realize how right those people were… but not for the reasons you’re thinking.

You see, from the very beginning of our relationship, my wife and I began to call into question many of the secondary doctrinal issues we had been taught growing up.  (I’ve written about this previously and you can read that here.)  Apart from the fundamental, primary, essential, closed-handed, issues (like Jesus is God, the Bible is God’s Word, Jesus died in our place, Christianity 101 stuff), we called everything else into question and went back and looked at what our position was.  Settling ourselves on Reformed theology was like eating an elephant.  It happened one bite at a time.  Afterwards, we took a breath, sat back, and relaxed.  There were so many things we had worked through in that process and we thought for sure that there wouldn’t be any other secondary issues that needed to be dealt with any time soon.  

Complimentarianism vs Egalitarianism? Done

Single vs. Plural Eldership? Done

Cessationism vs. Continuationism? Later

Pre-Mil vs. Post-Mil vs. A-Mil? Later

Interpretation of Revelation? Later

Paedo vs. Credo Baptism? Later

It was so convenient to write later next to those last 4 because, shoot, we didn’t have to settle that stuff over night.  We had just made these huge strides and differed from the traditions of our parents in fairly significant ways.  We were young, married, childless 20-somethings with all the time in the world to figure that other stuff out.  

What I find the most interesting, though, is how little that last issue mattered to us at the time.  I had been baptized.  My wife had been baptized.  We were good.  If some people wanna baptize babies, cool.  If some people wanna baptize adults, no problem.  If some people wanna sprinkle, sweet.  If some people wanna pour, awesome.  If some people wanna dunk, great.  We were baptismal agnostics and very much okay with that position.

Until we found out we were pregnant.

All of a sudden, the decision we had been putting off (because having kids was step #157 in our 5-Year-Plan) had become priority #1.  We absorbed as much information as we could in a 9 month period.  We read blogs, we listened to debates, we listened to both sides explain their position.  Majority of our conversations were:

Did you read that article I sent you?

No, I was throwing up all morning.

Okay…well… you need to read it.

During this time, we were attending a Reformed Baptist church and were very happy there.  Loving God, loving people, and loving His Church.  Joining that church was an easy transition for us as we settled into Reformed theology.  The denomination we were raised in was credobaptistic and so shifting to a Baptist church was no sweat at all.

However, after 9 months of researching until our heads hurt, we finally came to the determination that we were paedobaptists and wanted to have our daughter baptized.  I remember discussing the decision and it’s implications on a 3 hour drive from Huntington to Morgantown in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve with our 1 1/2 month old sound asleep in the back seat.  Not long after, we met with our pastor and his wife, who were both incredibly gracious and loving during our time of transition and are still great friends today.  Though it pained us, we said goodbye to them and that church family.

487414_638223969533184_1877224497_nOver the next month, God was incredibly faithful and we found a wonderful church family.  We have become members and are both proud to announce that our daughter will be baptized this Sunday, April 14th, 2014.  Palm Sunday no less.

As we celebrate Palm Sunday by singing to, for, and about King Jesus who came to save us, we will simultaneously celebrate the sign of the covenant of God’s people given to my daughter.

People told us life would be different when we had a baby.  I can safely say I did not expect this.

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The Woman Whom Thou Gavest

It was all my girlfriend’s fault.

The year was 2008.  I was in college reading Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis.  I had to read excerpts for a class and so I decided to pick up the book and read it in it’s entirety.  I was encountering a lot of interesting things that I discussed on a regular basis with my, then, girlfriend.  One fateful day, in one of our phone conversations, she asked a seemingly simple question.  She asked,

“Isn’t he a pastor somewhere?”

“Yes,” I replied.  “At Mars Hill Bible Church.”

“I listen to his sermons sometimes!” she exclaimed.

“Really?!” I said, equally enthused.

“I think.  I used to listen to a pastor online and I know the name of his church was Mars Hill.”

“Hold on.  I’ll look it up.”

“I will too.  I know that he reminded me of you,” she said with a laugh.  “Here!  I’m on his website.  His name is Mark Driscoll.  It doesn’t say anything about Rob Bell on here though.”

“That’s not the same guy.”

“But his church is named Mars Hill.  Maybe he’s associate pastor or something.”

“I’ll look, but I don’t think so.” 

[I’m sure you’re chuckling by now, but back in ’08, these weren’t the widely popular names they are today.]

The subject changed and we got off the phone not long after.  That’s when I made the fateful Wikipedia click that would change my life forever.

I was raised in a Pentecostal / charismatic denomination.  From the 2nd grade to college, that was all I ever knew, understood, or cared to believe.  Youth group.  Church camp.  Everything was saturated in Pentecostal theology.  I even went to a small, liberal arts college that was sponsored by the Pentecostal denomination I belonged to.  One of the unique things about that school is that it is “Theologically Distinct” yet “Denominationally Diverse” (from their website).  This means that they accept students from many Christian faith traditions, but they approach everything from the Pentecostal distinctives they were founded upon.  For example, it is a requirement for all employees to already be or be willing to become a member of a church in this particular denomination.  (I say this not to bash, but to set the stage for the story.)

While I was in attendance, one of the required courses for all majors was a semester class on this particular denomination’s “Doctrine and History.”  The purpose of this class was to trace the history of the Pentecostal movement in the United States back to the Reformation.  So that’s what my professor did (and he did it quite well actually!).  The interesting part of the story occurred when we started discussing the Protestant Reformation, the English Reformation, and the rise of Wesleyanism.  As I sat in that class, I was a sponge soaking up all the new facts I could considering that 99.9% of what he was teaching me was new information.  What can I say?  I went to public school.  I’ll never forget the day my professor introduced us to this crazy guy named John Calvin.  He talked about the basic tenets of “Calvinism” and contrasted them with the basic tenets of “Wesleyanism” (or Arminianism as he would sometimes say) and it was clear which position he took.  There was no attempt to hide his bias.  This caused a few days of in-class debate, but I remember sitting back wondering what everyone was so riled up about.  I was a Pentecostal which was a branch off the Holiness movement which was a branch off Wesleyan Methodism, so my mind was made up.  Calvinists were wrong.  At the end of those few days, my professor polled the class asking which side we “leaned” toward.  When he asked who leaned towards Calvinism, only one lonely and brave man raised his hand.  I will never forget how he was ostracized.  It was bad news bears coming out Calvinist!  Especially on a Pentecostal campus!

“Here!  I’m on his website.  His name is Mark Driscoll.  It doesn’t say anything about Rob Bell on here though.” 

“That’s not the same guy.”

“But his church is named Mars Hill.  Maybe he’s associate pastor or something.”

“I’ll look, but I don’t think so.”

The subject changed and we got off the phone not long after.  That’s when I did some digging on Wikipedia.

[I typed]

Wikipedia.org

M – A – R – K

D – R – I – S – C – O – L – L

Enter

[I read the bio box on the right to myself]

“Residence: Seattle, Washington.  Well, he and Rob Bell can’t be at the same church cause’ Rob’s is in Michigan.

Tradition or Movement: Reformed, Evangelical.  Reformed?  Wonder what that means…”

[the click heard round the world]

The big black letters stood at the top of that Wikipedia page unconquered like the boss you thought you beat on the previous level.  Strong.  Tall.  Unbeaten.  Begging to be dealt with.  Asking for a fight.

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What was my girlfriend into?!  I had to warn her about this guy and tell her to warn whoever told her!  This was serious stuff!  She couldn’t answer the phone fast enough.

“Hey!”  

“Hey?”

“Hey. Did you know Mark Driscoll is a Calvinist?!”

“I don’t know what that means.  Are you okay?”

“How can you not know what that means?!” I asked irrationally, having only learned a few months before.

“I dunno.  I’ve listened to quite a few of his sermons and I really liked them.  You should just calm down and listen to some and see what you think.”

“Okfinebye.”

I found the church’s website and did more digging.  At that time, Mark was preaching through his “Religion Saves…” series and so I hesitantly went and clicked on the most non-confrontational sermon I could find.  “Grace.”  In the message, he talked about how the hardest part of Christianity for him to believe was grace.  He couldn’t fathom how good and loving and kind and generous and gracious God had been to him in light of all the evil and wicked things he had done.  This was the part of Christianity that always blew him away.  And as he was talking, I started agreeing with him.  And as he was preaching, I saw that he doing so from the Bible.  But this guy was a Calvinist and Calvinists are…are…wrong.  But I agreed with him!  That was a watershed moment for me because from that time on, no belief outside of the Apostles’, Nicene, and Chalcedonian Creeds were safe.  They were fair game.   They were open to scrutiny and questioning.  And it had to start with this whole “Calvinism” thing.  I had to figure out what I thought.

I knew Calvinism had it’s roots in the Protestant Reformation, so I found myself in the library as often as I could, mostly at night, reading everything I could get my hands on about the Reformation.  I finally starting reading some of Martin Luther’s own works.  After that, I knew my church history well enough to know that after Luther and before Wesley came the Puritans.  So I read everything I could find on the Puritans.  And then I started reading some of John Owen’s works.  I can’t say that during all this reading I was convinced, but I wasn’t unconvinced.  The final persuasion came from…you guessed it…my girlfriend.

It was a year or two later and I was still wrestling with all of this.  Up until this point, I was doing so in silence.  One random evening (and for the first time since that conversation about Mark Driscoll and Rob Bell) my girlfriend and I actually ended up talking specifics about this whole Calvinism mess.  I laid out the arguments and presented both sides arbitrarily.  Before I was finished and without even hesitating she said, “Then I’m a Calvinist.”  I was floored.  Until then, I had just assumed that she was an innocent bystander caught in the crossfire.  She didn’t really know what she thought about all of this.  She didn’t have a dog in this fight.  “How can you be a Calvinist?!” I shouted.  “I dunno.  That’s what the Bible teaches,” she said with a wry smile.  I disagreed, loudly, and remained still unconvinced for another few months.  But in the end, I was forced to admit that she was right.

It’s been an interesting journey from there to here with many different caveats I’ll share at different times in the future.  But I can say with complete assurance and certainty that I would not be the person I am today if not for that girlfriend I had back then.  Just as an example, I write to you today as a happily Reformed Evangelical Presbyterian.

And it is all my wife’s fault.  (Yeah.  I married her.)

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Divine Eye-Logging

Maybe you’re like me.  I am far to quick to notice the sin in others and far too unwilling to notice it in myself.  I often look at the evil in the world as something that is “out there,” outside of me in this person, or this corporation, or that political ideology.  I am far too quick to call others on their greed or hypocrisy or lust or idolatry.  And on the other hand, I am reluctant to recognize or admit that I have been first chair violin in the lust orchestra or the driver of the idolatry bus leading far too many to play the wrong part or drive them very far in the wrong direction.

Recently, I was watching (too many) YouTube videos with a bunch of prominent “Prosperity Gospel” / “Word of Faith” teachers shouting nonsense and manipulating the Word of God to mean they could get what they really wanted, which it turns out wasn’t God at all.  I was appalled, disgusted, and everything you should be when watching videos like that.  However, over the next couple days, the Holy Spirit began convicting me of how often times I use God to get what I want.  How often to I elevate gift above Giver?  How often do I operate as though I am king of my life and this world and God only has what reign and dominion I allow him to have?  How often to I humbly realize God is who he is independent of me and would remain so even if i had never been born?  How often to I graciously and willingly submit to his will instead of demanding my own?

Recently, I was monitoring and engaging in (too many) debates on Facebook.  After a while, I found myself swelling up with pride that I had it more “figured out” than the other guys.  Over the next couple of days, the Holy Spirit began convicting me of how prideful and arrogant I had become.  Is it not pride and arrogance that caused Satan to be kicked out of Heaven and removed from God’s presence?  Is it not pride and arrogance that caused Adam and Eve to be kicked out of the Garden and removed from God’s presence?  Are pride and arrogance not listed among the things that God hates (Prov. 8:13)?  How quick am I to overlook this obvious sin in my own life which Augustine says is pregnant with all other sins?  And yet how quickly can I see it and identify it festering like a sore in someone else and announce loudly how ugly it is?

I should know better.

My Messiah teaches, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)

Messiah Jesus is arguing against our fallen tendency to utilize unequal weights and measures.  We are so eager to judge someone else by their words and actions, but we want to be judged by our motives and intentions.  The Messiah is arguing for the existence of sin in each of our lives and not only it’s glaring reality, but our willingness to overlook it.  And he goes one step further by shining the light even brighter in the dark recesses of our heart.  He knows that though we blithely dismiss our sin we are all crackshots when it comes to calling out the sins of others.  Certainly we can’t extrapolate from this teaching that we shouldn’t judge one another.  Notice that at the end of his lesson, the speck in the brother’s eye ends up removed.  The problem Messiah Jesus has is the spirit and order in which this judging takes place.  It must be done in the spirit of equality and in the order that causes self examination to take precedence. This theme is carried out through the rest of the New Testament.

Judgment begins with the household of God. (1 Pet. 4:17)

Judge and remove the evil from among you before considering judgement on outsiders. (1 Cor. 5:12-13)

Judge your own petty lawsuits wisely, because you’re going to judge the angels. (1 Cor. 6:1-4)

I’m beginning to figure out that understanding the evil in the world isn’t going to come by looking outside myself and saying, “It’s this government!” or “It’s this religion!” or “It’s this corporation!” or “It’s this group of people!”  Beginning to understand the evil in the world starts by asking, “Where is the greed is in my heart?  Where is my indifference?  Where is my lack of compassion?  Where is my lust, arrogance, pride, and idolatry?”

If I ever want to be an asset to others and a helper to my brother, I need to allow the Holy Spirit to do his divine eye-logging. (Jn. 16:8)