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Reading the Bible in 2021

Reading the Bible in 2021

The original title for this post was, “Reading the Bible in 2071.” I mistyped the date. But then, that’s actually how we are so often tempted to approach Bible reading. It’s something we’ll get to later. That’s where habits come in. When we build out a regular pattern of doing just about anything, it becomes more natural, and dare I say, easy. When it comes to Bible reading, a reading plan can help.

Remember Jesus’ words, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). He was talking about himself! You don’t need to read the Bible in a year, but in 2021 you can certainly read the Bible regularly if you haven’t. The New Year is a great opportunity to decide how you’ll do that.  

At the risk of overwhelming you with options, here is an overwhelming number options. At least you’ll know there’s no one-way to read the Bible every day. Browse around a bit and pick something that seems doable and encouraging:

  • Chronological Reading Plan: Reading God’s Story: A Chronological Daily Bible, by George Guthrie is a unique resource. This Bible is published with a one year daily reading plan in mind, ordering the Biblical material chronologically along the Bible’s own narrative framework. George Guthrie has also published a one year chronological Bible reading plan, Read the Bible for Life.
  • The M’Cheyne Plan with Daily Devotional Commentary: For the Love of God is a two volume series of books written by D.A. Carson providing daily reading to supplement the M’Cheyne reading plan. This plan, named after its designer and Scottish minister in the 1800′s, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, takes you through the Old Testament once and the Psalms and New Testament twice in one year. Four readings are assigned to each day, but you can easily approach this with two readings a day and spread it across two years. 
  • Several Places A Day: Crossway’s Daily Bible Reading Plan is available as a PDF form to print out for a series of bookmarks. This plan gets you through the Bible in a year, reading from several different places in the Bible each day. Crossway has published 10 reading plans to supplement the ESV, including RSS, email, audio, and print versions daily. Also, the Discipleship Journal “Bible Reading Plan,” by NavPress, takes you through the entire Bible by reading from four different places each day.
  • Just a List of Chapters: The Bible Reading Record, by Don Whitney, is a simple list of every chapter in the Bible. With this, you can read at whatever pace you like and keep track of what you’ve read until you’re through the Bible. This, of course, wouldn’t necessarily be a one year plan, but it could be. To get through the Bible’s 1089 chapters in a year, you need to read an average of 3.25 chapters a day, which comes out to about four chapters per day if you commit to reading five days each week.
  • A Plan for Following God’s Redemption Plan: The Bible Eater is a simple one-page print out with a list of every chapter in the Bible and a reading pattern. Print it out and cross off chapters as you go. This plan highlights the Bible’s chapters that are especially significant for grasping the Bible’s storyline centered in Christ.

If you need some help reflecting on some of the spiritual dynamics involved in our struggle to read the Bible, check out Ryan Kelly’s article, “How’s Your Bible Reading Going?.” For some encouragement in the formation of some new habits like Bible reading, pick up a copy of David Mathis’, Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines.

Women’s Bible Study

Women’s Bible Study

What is our only hope in life and death? Although we know the answer is Christ, after a difficult year, we may be left with many practical questions. Is Christ our only hope even when we are not feeling hopeful or happy? Is our faith enough to sustain us in difficult times? The book of James was possibly the first book written in the New Testament, and it has a word for those who are prone to wander, for those who are doubting, and for those who are seeking wisdom. James invites the Christians to remember their good God, calls the seekers to examine their faith, and shows that true wisdom is in seeing this groaning world the way that God sees it; James urges his readers to remain steadfast in their calling to Christ, to the Church, and to their fellow image-bearers. Come study with us as we dive into this practical and sometimes controversial book!

For this winter/spring session of Ladies’ Bible Study, we will meet in person at Heritage each Tuesday morning at 9:15 a.m. or Tuesday evening at 7:00 p.m., January 12 – March 23. Childcare for infants through preschoolers is available for the morning session only. Each week will include small group discussions and a large group teaching session. We will offer a small group Zoom option on Tuesday evenings for those unable to attend in person.

Sign up online and pick up your study notebook in the Hudson Road lobby at Heritage on Sundays, December 27, January 3, or January 10. Or stop by the HBC office Monday – Friday from 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. to pick up a notebook. Cost is $5. Email Liz Stratton, Women’s Ministries Director, with questions.

What’s in the Water?: Baptism as a Sign of Addition

What’s in the Water?: Baptism as a Sign of Addition

This is the third in a three-part series on the sign of Baptism. Read the Introduction and Part 2. This post is based on a sermon preached, November 29, 2020, titled, “Baptism: A Sign of Addition

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A certain headline recently caught my attention: “Utah monolith: Helicopter crew discovers mysterious metal monolith deep in the desert.” What was this all about?

Sure enough, way out in the desert was discovered a triangular structure of polished metal. Its clean edges rose out of the ground some ten feet. Clearly it did not belong there, but where was it from? As if from another world entirely, that triangular structure was proof that someone was up to something.

That is not so much unlike what the church is in the world. Here is a picture of a similarly beautiful and otherworldly structure:

Those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. —Acts 2:41–47

This is the church, a mysterious monolith in the desert of this world. Its crisp edges are unmistakable, distinct, and visible to anyone with eyes to see. Baptism is no small part of that. In fact, as a sign of the new covenant, we could say that baptism gives the church its visible definition. Baptism is the shape of the church.

In the last post we focused on the invisible things to which baptism points. In this post, I want us to focus on the visible things that baptism calls us to and creates. We will explore what the Bible teaches and then we will make some applications for how we approach baptism. This will require some biblical work and, with it, some conceptual rewiring. We’ll give it the time we need.

How Is Baptism a Sign of Addition?

One of the Bible’s first and simplest lessons about the local church is a math lesson.

Notice the order of things here: “Those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:41, 42). The Word led to baptism, which led to a defined worshiping community. As people were baptized, they were “added” to that community. That’s what Luke is teaching us.

What does this addition involve and what does baptism have to do with it? And who’s counting anyway? Apparently, there were two parties keeping track of who was added to the church. Understanding who they are and why they counted will help us with the sign of baptism.

Through baptism we are counted by the church

Besides the Lord himself, the church is the first party keeping track of souls. We know why we count our money. We know why we count the heads of our kids when we get in the van. What does it mean for the church to count us when we’re baptized?

With this question, I am about to Bible assault the idea that baptism is a personal decision and an individual thing merely. We decide where we go to eat. We decide where to shop for clothes. We decide which kind of shampoo we will use. When it comes to identifying with Christ, it is bigger and deeper than that, and that is good news.

Before we see how, here is a thought experiment. You might have the last name Smith, but if things took the normal course, you were born into a specific Smith family. Intuitively you did not pit the more universal truth that you belonged to the Smith family more broadly against the narrower truth that you belonged to your mom and dad and siblings. They are both true at the same time and they were true at the point of your birth. In fact, the way you come to know you belong to the Smith family more broadly is through identification with a Smith family more locally. The illustration will break down eventually, but I trust you’re tracking with me.

Now, four things the church does when we baptize someone.

First, when we are baptized, we are counted in. The portrait God gives us in Acts 2 does not involve a loose affiliation of floating Christians but committed family. Luke did that on purpose. When local churches made disciples and counted them in through baptism, they did this in obedience to Jesus. When Jesus said, “I will build my church,” he gave us the “keys of the kingdom” with the authority to preach his gospel and make disciples and the responsibility to keep careful track of the disciples we make (16:18–19; 18:15–20). “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:18–20). Baptism is not just a decision for the person who wants to be baptized. It involves a decision on the part of a church to go public with a person together.

Having been counted in, we are now counted on. A baptized Christian is to be treated as an indispensable member of a local church. We do not just baptize one another into Christ, but into his body (Gal. 3:27, 28; cf. 1Cor. 12:13). In terms of invisible realities, this speaks of our broad identification with God’s people at all times in all places. But once we start reading the New Testament letters, we begin to realize that this truth always touched down with visible local church commitments. Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus: “There is one body and one Spirit … one baptism” (Eph. 4:4, 5). But he wrote about that universal truth in order to ground his practical command for a church to bear with one another in love and build one another up as a body (4:2, 15, 16). The imagery of a body involves real-life coherence and interdependence. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1Cor. 12:21, 22). Indispensable! In other words, we make disciples, baptize them, and then count on them.

In baptism we also become accountable. We say to one another, “How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Ro. 6:2–4). This accountability goes further than exhortations. What happens when we stop living consistent with our baptism? Our brothers and sisters call us to repent and when we persist, they “tell it to the church,” and if that doesn’t win us, then the church treats us like an unbeliever (Matt. 18:15–20). Here’s what this means: when we go public with someone in baptism, we must be willing to go public in saying they are not a Christian through church discipline if necessary.

Fourth, in baptism we are accounted for. After churches were planted, elders were appointed (Acts 14:23). Which means we have this comforting command: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account” (Heb. 13:17). When we are added to the church, we get real life shepherds who watch over our souls and who will give an account for us to God. This doesn’t mean they need to know everything about us. Only the Lord can keep that kind of a watch over us. But it does mean that our churches are led and fed by elders who are godly and who have God’s heart for God’s people. Baptism means that we aren’t just on God’s books, but we are on the books of a local church and its leaders.

Here’s what all this means: baptism is not just a private or an individual thing. Yes, it is deeply personal, but it is also a family thing. And that’s part of God’s good plan for us. Baptism puts you and a local church on public record that you belong to Christ.

When we go on record together, someone else starts counting too.

Through baptism we are counted by the world

In this section I want to Bible assault the idea that we can baptize someone without disclosing the costs or discerning that they know what they are getting themselves into.

When we are baptized, some are happy about it. Heaven rejoices whenever a sinner repents (Lk. 15:7). But some are hostile about it. We looked at the portrait of the church meeting, eating, praying, and teaching in Acts 2. What happened next? Their teaching about the resurrection became an annoyance and some were arrested (Acts 3:1–3). Just as Jesus said (Jn. 15:20).

How did the hostile ones know who to ruff up? They were keeping track of who belonged to the church. For example, “Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church” (Acts 12:1). Paul, before he was converted, “persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it” (Gal. 1:13; cf. 1Cor. 15:9). He sought letters from religious officials “so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:2).

What animated this hostility toward the church? Paul tells us: “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them.” (Acts 26:9, 10).

At times I hear someone say, “we need a compelling reason not to baptize someone.” That sounds right, but I believe it is mistaken. It seems better to say the opposite, that we need a compelling reason to baptize someone. It is true that the baptisms we witness in the book of Acts closely follow conversion. But they are also, each of them, publicly credible and immediately verifiable. That is, they were dramatic, attended with signs, save one; they were from a non-Christian to a Christian context; and they were costly in that persecution was assumed. One of the was a jailer responsible for guarding Christians. Baptism was itself a test of one’s faith.

This is consistent with Jesus’ teaching on what it means to be a Christian. When Jesus called people to follow him, he was big into full disclosure. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mk. 16:24, 25). Or, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Mt. 8:22). Or, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Mt. 10:37). We are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8). It is a miracle of God. But it is a miracle that moves us (Eph. 2:10). Saving faith follows Jesus. There is no contradiction here.

Here’s what this means for baptism. If we are to make disciples and then baptize the disciples we make, how do we know when we’ve got a disciple? I suggest to you that Jesus has told us what to look for. One of those things is a resolve to follow Jesus whatever the cost. That’s important to remember, since baptism puts them on record not only with the church, but with the world.

Getting Consistent on Some Things

Now it’s time to press this teaching into a more consistent practice of baptism for our church. Here are two areas in which we as elders have become convinced that Jesus has more for us in this sign than we’ve been seeing or enjoying.

Baptism and church membership go together

Baptism and a church’s membership process should be tightly linked in two ways.

First, since baptism is Jesus’ membership process, any other processes we create around it should support and account for baptism, and not sideline this sign. Consider this question: what does it take to start a church? Do we need a building or programs or spreadsheets? No, Jesus made it much simpler than that. We need the preaching of the gospel, some water, and some bread and wine (juice is just fine). That water part is Jesus’ membership materials because baptism is the church’s front door.

What does this mean for us? It means that when someone comes to us for baptism, we shepherd them through the membership class and baptism functions as the last step. In other words, when they are baptized, they will at that moment become a member—counted in, counted on, accountable, and accounted for. This is new for us, but not entirely. For example, we have always required baptism for membership. We did not do this because baptism is merely a matter of obedience, but because it is a matter of membership. We’re convinced we need to work that principle in the other direction. Of course, when someone comes to us having been baptized as a believer at a gospel preaching church, we acknowledge that baptism for our purposes of membership.

Second, baptism is a sign in which the whole membership is engaged. Baptism is not something the congregation watches a pastor do to a new Christian. Baptism may be led by a trusted leader or pastor, but it is ultimately something we do together. The keys of the kingdom are given to the church, which means there are three consciences that need to be satisfied in baptism: the conscience of the one being baptized, the conscience of the one baptizing, and the conscience of the congregation. This is why a baptismal candidate testifies to the gospel and how they were saved before they are baptized. They do this in order that we can together welcome this person into our membership with joy and without hesitation.

So, members, when we baptize someone, that means we get to and must treat them as a brother or sister in Christ with all that that means expressed in our Membership Covenant. If you’re not a member but you are confessing Christ and you have been baptized, you should pursue membership at Heritage or at a gospel preaching church somewhere. And to those who are confessing Christ but who have not been baptized, you should be baptized and join us in membership.

Baptism assumes a certain level of maturity

When is a person old enough to be baptized? This is an important question for us to engage as a church in love for our children. We may intuit that a three-year old is too young to fully understand the truth and demands of the gospel. Can a three-year old be genuinely converted? I suppose, yes. Can a congregation be confident enough to affirm that salvation publicly and hold them to all that it involves? We believe we should say, no. But if not three-years old, then what age are we talking about then?

Let’s slow down and consider what children are like. Children are dependent. They are dependent on their parents for food, for decisions, and for their ideas. Children are changeable. That is, they are flexible, exploring, and unsettled. Children are also untested. Parents have to impose consequences on children because they are naturally shielded from the consequences of their decisions. All of this is right and good and God’s plan for children.

Can children who are dependent, changeable, and untested be converted? Emphatically, yes. Is it easy enough for them and for us to discern whether they are converted so that we are willing to give them the one-time sign of eternal safety with God? Should we, for our part, put them on the line for all that Jesus calls us to? We have become convinced that the answer to that question in normal circumstances is, no. We think patience is the most loving thing for our young people.

So, then, what age? Let us walk you through the questions we asked ourselves as elders. When does it usually become naturally evident not to mom and dad or even the pastor but to the church that this person is a true convert? When would it be natural for a young person to deal directly with the church and not through their parents? Since we should never baptize someone with whom we would not be willing to go through with church discipline, when would that typically seem right? We want our young people to understand what they are doing and remember it forever, so when is someone typically old enough for that to be the case? To return to our thinking on childhood, when do we normally see a clear move from dependence to independence, from changing to stability, from untested to tested?

We decided not to work with a defined age, but we think the mid to late teens is about right. We are eager to talk with anyone about their soul at any time but will be open in normal circumstances to move forward with baptism around that time.

Does this conform to the Scriptural pattern? That’s a question we’d hope you would ask. We believe it does. At the risk of lengthening an already long post, here’s why we say that. Jesus welcomed children to himself, but that famous episode served as a lesson for his disciples and all of us in humility (Mk. 10:13–16; cf. 9:33–37; 10:32–34). When Jesus called someone by name, it was an adult. When Jesus healed, it was on account of an adult’s faith. In other words, Jesus welcomed children to be around him, but we should not overstate what he taught. In the book of Acts, baptism and conversion are closely tied together as they should be. But, again, all of the examples we have are of publicly credible and immediately verifiable conversions. The explicit baptisms we have are also all adults. When disciples are mentioned we read about “men and women.”

Here’s the point: at best, the New Testament is inconclusive on the age of baptism for believing young people. We cannot be dogmatic about this. But there does seem to be a pattern that favors adulthood or, as we say, the years approaching adulthood. Adulthood came much younger in the first century. Our own practice is what we might call a biblically informed judgment call.

It helped our elder team to realize that in historical and international perspective, the common practice is to baptize at between sixteen and early twenties. As one of many examples, Charles Spurgeon believed his children were converted quite young, but baptized his boys when they were eighteen. In foreign lands where persecution is assumed for identification with Christ, that’s about the age that churches and families are willing to baptize as well. Anecdotally, at least three of our church plants baptize at between 16 and 18 years old. The American South after 1900 and especially after 1950 is somewhat peculiar for the baptism of children down in the younger ages. We would be right to make a connection between that and the problem of nominal Christianity in our day and age.

A word to children, a word to parents, and a prayer

What does this mean for children we have baptized at a fairly young age, perhaps as young as six-years old, who are not members? First of all, if you are walking with Christ, there’s no reason to doubt the legitimacy of your baptism. This practice we’re outlining is forward looking. Second, we’re okay with lag-time between your baptism and church membership. When it seems right—again, probably mid to late teens—reach out to an elder about church membership.

What does this mean for parents? Parents, we plan to equip you with some resources to shepherd your children to conversion and with help for discipling them in the Word. For you, we would offer you this word of caution: avoid offering your child the kind of overt assurances that are the church’s responsibility to offer. What should you say to your child when they ask about baptism? Keep reading.

Are you a child interested in baptism? Good job reading this far! What does this mean for you? Let me say to you what I say to my own kids: “I am so glad you have asked about baptism. That is a sign that the Lord is at work in you. If you are confessing Christ, keep believing. That’s exactly what a Christian does. As with many things in life, let’s wait on baptism until you’re a bit older. It seems best to our elders for us to wait, and so let’s trust them with that. But more importantly, that seems to be the pattern we see in the Bible so we’re going to trust God with that. We want your baptism to be clear and meaningful and memorable for you and for our whole church family. Until then, remember that Jesus welcomed children to him, and he welcomes you with open arms. Come to him, believe in him, and don’t stop.”

For all of us now, a prayer:

Father, empower us to preach the gospel and glorify your name by adding to our church. And make our church at Heritage a truly otherworldly community—unmistakable, distinct, and visible to anyone with eyes to see. Fill us with awe as we pray and sing and eat and teach. We want to see our young people and our neighbors saved. We want to see our neighbors baptized into Christ and into Christ’s body and joined to our church. Do this for the sake of your Son, in whose name we pray. Amen. 

Now, let’s go make some disciples together.

What’s in the Water?: Baptism as a Sign of Addition

What’s in the Water?: Baptism as a Sign of the New Covenant

This is the second in a three-part series on the sign of Baptism. Read the Introduction and Part 3. This post is based on a sermon preached, November 22, 2020, titled, “Baptism: A Sign of the New Covenant.”

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A wedding ring does not make you married, which is good for me, because I lost my first ring. But a ring does say that you are married, and it says this to your spouse and to everyone else. You could say that the ring is a visual shorthand for the whole marriage package. It is perfectly fitted to symbolize a specific invisible truth.

Here’s what I say to a couple and the witnesses present at a wedding just before the giving of the rings:

The wedding ring has been an outward sign of the inward and spiritual bond in marriage. It is a visible reminder to you, your spouse, and everyone around you that you are taken, and your love for each other is to be obvious, tangible, clear, pure, beautiful, and unbreakable.

We know what a wedding ring symbolizes. But what does baptism symbolize? What is God saying to us about our covenant relationship with him in this sign? What kind of changes does this sign symbolize? If baptism is a sign of the new covenant in Christ, what’s new about the new covenant?

In this post I want to explore with you some of the invisible things to which baptism points. As elders, we want these things to be especially clear in our minds when we baptize someone together as a church.

To start, we need to get our bearings on the Bible’s story. Then, we’ll talk about the symbolism of baptism. Then, we’ll make some applications for how we think about and approach baptism together.

Let’s Talk About Covenants

Here’s one way to summarize the Bible’s story: the Bible is the story of God’s one plan of salvation unfolded across multiple covenants. We need salvation because we are sinners. In Adam, we are guilty, condemned to death and judgment. In Adam, we are corrupted as sinners, spiritually dead. And in Adam, we are alienated from God and one another. We’re even alienated within ourselves. We don’t know who we are. How does God save us from our sin? God saves by making and keeping covenant promises.

What are these promises? He has not only verbalized these to us, but he has also visualized these for us. Most covenants have signs, and these signs are a way of telling God’s story of salvation.

The rainbow is a covenant sign. The rainbow in the sky is God’s promise never to judge the earth like he did in that day until the end of the age. How does it picture that? God has hung up his war bow and it no longer faces us. He is not done with us! “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Gen. 8:22). This is a covenant with the whole of creation, a continuation of God’s commitment to what he made in the beginning.

The sign of circumcision is the next covenant sign we encounter. This involved the cutting of the flesh of young males and pictured the creation of a new people. How did it do this? God’s salvation of Noah and his family was dramatic, but not enough. Noah died and sin remained. But when God came to Abraham, he came with the promise of a new people in a new place. God will save through Abraham’s family and the sign of circumcision is a sign of entry into that family. Israelites entered that covenant by birth, born as citizens of what became the nation of Israel. Why a sign that involved physical surgery? To picture the spiritual heart surgery that every person needs for a relationship with God (Gen. 17:10; Deut. 10:16; 30:6).

The Passover meal was for Israel a sign of renewal, a meal to repeat picturing the Lord’s deliverance of his people from slavery. The Angel of Death passed over the homes whose doorposts were marked with blood (Ex. 12:23, 48). The Passover marked Israel’s birth as a nation, a nation ordered by God’s law covenant given to Israel at Sinai. That covenant was given in grace as instruction for life under God’s gracious rule. But Israel grieved the Lord. He redeemed them and they rebelled from him. He saved them from bondage, and they broke his covenant.

What’s New About the New Covenant?

There was a problem with the law covenant—the old covenant. It could not change the human heart. Its repeated sacrifices could not deal finally with sin and its tablets could not make our hearts worship God. It was never intended to. Rather, it was intended to prepare us for something new:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD.” —Jeremiah 31:31, 32

This covenant is the answer to how God will truly restore our relationship with him.

How will it do this? In a few ways. First, this new covenant will give us a new heart. “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts,” he says, not just on stone for us to read (33a). Second, this covenant will give us a new relationship with God, for we will worship and love God from the heart. God’s repeated promise will come true: “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (33b).

Third, these new worshipers will form a new community. Israelites entered the covenant community by birth, but this community is entered by new birth, by faith. For that reason, “No longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me” (34a). This new community has a new nature, but also a new structure. For this new community, access to God won’t be mediated through the priests and kings at the temple, but all will have direct access to God. That’s the answer to the problem raised by what Jeremiah wrote, “In those days they shall no longer say: ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ But everyone shall die for his own iniquity” (30:29, 31). In other words, God will deal with us directly and he will save us directly.

Fourth, what’s the basis for these incredible blessings given the problem of human sin? What of our guilt? What about death and judgment before a holy God? This covenant comes with a new sacrifice. “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sins no more” (34b). This new covenant brings a new and complete forgiveness of sins through a better sacrifice (Heb. 7:27; 9:26).

In other words, God’s new covenant is God’s perfect and complete answer to our age-old problem of sin.

How Does Baptism Picture the New Covenant?

We know what the rainbow, circumcision, and the Passover meal symbolize. But how specifically does the sign of baptism dramatize entry into the new covenant? The answer is beautiful and simple.

First, Baptism dramatizes of the work of Jesus Christ which brings the new covenant. In baptism we go under the water, picturing his death and burial, and we come up from the water, picturing his resurrection.

But second, baptism also pictures our union with Christ in his death and resurrection. United with him in his death, our judgment falls on Jesus. United with him in his resurrection, his resurrection life is our new life. Paul puts this plainly, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Ro. 6:4, 5).

Finally, baptism pictures our union with God’s new people in Christ. The Spirit is the one who brings the new covenant blessings, and this includes the creation of a new regenerated community. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1Cor 12:13). Baptism is used here metaphorically. However, water baptism pictures this invisible reality. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:27, 28). In other words, we are not only baptized into Christ, but into his body.

Clearing Up the Water

If you’ve been at Heritage long enough, none of this will be new, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t in need of a fresh look at this doctrine. Jeremiah 31 doesn’t course-correct us so much as it helps us get clearer on what baptism pictures, giving us the reasons why we do things we’ve always done. As with any doctrine, if we’re not seeing new things then we are seeing old things in sharper focus. Here are some of the things we’re clearer on.

First, the new covenant is a regenerate community and not a community mixed with believers and unbelievers like Israel. This is why we baptize believers only.

To baptize infants is to misunderstand more than the sign, but the nature of the new covenant and the people it creates. Circumcision and baptism are both covenant signs, but baptism is the sign of a new and better covenant. Circumcision pointed to the need for spiritual heart surgery and baptism pictures the accomplishment of that new life. This is what Paul meant when he carefully related circumcision to baptism in his letter to the Colossian church:

“In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses — Colossians 2:11–13

This is somewhat obscure to our ears, but here’s what it means. Jesus was cut (circumcised) in his flesh through his crucifixion so that we could be cut in our hearts through regeneration. Baptism does not replace circumcision. Baptism pictures its fulfillment.

Second, we enter the new covenant community by faith, and for that reason we do not trust in our baptism.

This is a common trap and a common misunderstanding that springs from hearts that at the same time love to boast in what we do partly because we can’t imagine a God who does it all for us. No, we do not trust in the sign; we trust in the One to whom baptism points.

Third, baptism pictures our union with Jesus in his sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection. For that reason, we don’t sprinkle or pour but plunge someone under the water.

That baptism, or immersion, is a violent image makes sense of how Jesus spoke of his own death: “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mk. 10:38). By plunging someone under water, the sign of baptism pictures that to which baptism points: Christ’s death and our death with him.

Fourth, the new covenant brings full access to God through a new and better mediator, Jesus Christ. There are no priests or kings to mediate the presence of God to us, and for that reason we don’t emphasize the role of the baptizer in baptism.

The only time the matter of who baptizes gets any attention in the New Testament letters is when it’s a problem for the Corinthian church (1Cor. 1:13–17). The emphasis seems to lie elsewhere. What we read about is baptism into Christ and baptism into the body (Gal. 3:27; 1Cor. 12:13). For that reason, our focus is on the person’s confession and on the congregation.

With that summary, we have now explored the invisible realities to which baptism points. The most important point of doctrinal clarity I hope you gained from this is the nature of the new covenant as a regenerate community. If the question of infant baptism is something you’d like to pursue further, this question about the nature of the covenants is the heart of the matter. For a deeper dive, read this interview with Stephen Wellum based on his chapter “Baptism and the Relationship Between the Covenants,” in Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ. If you aren’t hung up on the question, read the interview anyway, as this post was a good primer for the topic.

Elder Q&A 2020 Recap

Elder Q&A 2020 Recap

On November 22, we hosted our second annual Elders Q&A. Our hope through an evening like this is to fulfill Peter’s words for all of us when he wrote to elders, “shepherd the flock of God that is among you” (1Pet. 1:2).

In that short command, Peter teaches us a few things about 

  • A church is more than just sheep, but a flock.
  • A local church does not belong to its leaders or even its members, but to God.
  • Elders shepherd as those who areamong the sheep.

We could go on. There are no less potent lines just before and after that short command. But this is already enough to set the stage for this recap post on our recent Elder Q&A. 

An elder Q&A is one way in which we intend to be among the flock. Of course, it’s not the only time we mean to engage questions. The Q&A is just an especially public version of what we hope to cultivate in the halls and over coffee. Read our invitation post for some more specifics on our aims and process heading into the event.

 

 

We collected a number of questions across a number of topics. Thank you for all of them. This year’s night was broken into three parts, gathering questions we received under three headers. Here’s a list of the questions we asked with the timestamps for the audio. Of course, we would encourage you to listen to the entire Q&A for context and the spirit of the evening. 

Welcome and Introduction (0:00)

Introductions and what we’ve seen God do in our church (9:38)

Life Together in Membership (19:20)

  • How can singles become better connected with the rest of the membership? (19:30)
  • How can twenty-somethings and young professionals connect with people their own age? (22:40)
  • How do the elders and pastors handle the circle of knowledge when addressing sin or counseling issues? (23:44)
  • Where can the women of Heritage go when they need counselling or spiritual advice, but would feel more comfortable getting that counsel from another woman? (28:30)

Gathered Worship (31:40)

  • How do we design our worship services at Heritage? (31:54)
  • Why are our worship elements irregular? (34:16)
  • Why do all the prayers have to be read in the services and sound prepared? Is that a good thing for us? (36:57)
  • Why is the livestream by request and what are our plans for the future? (42:26)
  • As believers, do we spend eternity in heaven or on earth in the city of New Jerusalem? (46:24)
  • What are the triggers for searching for a worship director? (50:23)
  • Will the livestream be available for those who are home sick? (52:39)

In the World, For the World (55:00)

  • Please share an update on our global outreach efforts and plans (55:18)
  • What is the status of our plans following last year’s holiday offering, “Warming Up Our Welcome”? (58:52)
  • What is the role of the church in politics? (1:02:15)
  • Advice from the elders on political and cultural engagement (1:07:16)
  • What is wokeness and what do we make of it? (1:12:37)
  • Closing prayer for thanksgiving (1:18:14)

As promised, if you submitted a question and we didn’t answer it at the Q&A, we’ll be in touch by the close of December with plans to answer your question by email or in person by the close of January. Of course, as questions come to mind across the year, you can always just email us at [email protected]. For more material of this sort, review our recap from the 2019 Elder Q&A.