(Photo: Dan Delzell)
By Dan Delzell , Special to CP
January 24, 2013|7:55 am
Some spiritual practices and doctrinal positions held by Christians have definite limitations....and must be handled with care, lest people get the wrong idea about what it means to be spiritually reborn....and what it doesn't mean....and what the Bible means when it states that "God is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9)
There are many mature Christians in the world today who believe that Scripture supports the questionable teachings of infant baptism and/or 5-Point Calvinism. I say "questionable" teachings because millions of their fellow believers (including mature believers) question these doctrines and find no support for them in Scripture.
Let's start with the historic practice of infant baptism. Why should parents who practice infant baptism be careful with this approach? Well....a big reason is because there are so many teenagers and adults who were baptized as infants....but are not spiritually reborn through faith in Christ. Some ministers and parents seem to assume that a baptized person is definitely a Christian. That is not always the case. Quite a few teenagers who were baptized as infants want little to do with Christ. Other teens appear outwardly moral, but not all of them are spiritually alive and connected to Christ through faith.
One should be cautious about allowing infant baptism to give you a false sense of security for your loved one. Christianity is much larger than that particular practice. It involves a relationship with Christ through faith. (see Romans 3:21-24) Also, there is good fruit in the life of a born again person. (see Matthew 7:16,17) Does your loved one in question have saving faith in Christ, and good fruit....or just baptism?
What if Martin Luther had continued to assume that just because he had been baptized as an infant, he was already a Christian? What if Luther never applied the Gospel message personally to his own soul....through faith....by trusting in what Jesus did for him on the cross? Look at all his teen and adult years where Martin Luther was spiritually dead....even after he had been baptized as an infant. Many teens and adults are in the same condition today.
So just be cautious if infant baptism is something your church practices. It doesn't guarantee that your child will grow up knowing the Lord....or will die one day knowing the Lord. Every person who desires to know Christ must repent and believe the good news, whether he was baptized as an infant or not. (see John 3:7) If he does repent and believe, he will then begin to follow Jesus. That's what Christians do.
There will be many people who were baptized as infants who do not make it into heaven. Were you aware of that fact? Even though they were baptized in the Presbyterian church....or Methodist....or Lutheran....or Catholic....or in some other denomination, their infant baptism did not result in securing eternal life for them. Why? Because they lived a life devoid of a relationship with Christ. Without repentance....and applying the Gospel to yourself through faith....there is no forgiveness, and no salvation.
If you assume that everyone who has been baptized is saved, you are as misguided as the person who assumes that everyone who has ever gone forward during an "altar call" is saved. Those spiritual practices have meaning, but "what counts is a new creation." (Galatians 5:16) "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation." (2 Cor. 5:17) If he is not a new creation, then he is not saved....whether he has been baptized or not.
God has used many different people over the centuries who held varying perspectives on infant baptism. For example, untold thousands were brought to Christ during the 18th century through the ministries of these men who practiced infant baptism: John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards. Does that surprise you? Whatever your view on infant baptism, just try to appreciate how God chooses to work mightily through many of His children who don't share your view on that issue.
Infant baptism is not the only Christian practice which requires caution. One must also be careful with the system of theology known as "5-Point Calvinism." The proponents of this view are convinced the Bible supports all 5 points. Many believers beg to differ, at least on one or more of the points. If you are not familiar with the 5 points, it is an easy thing to research as you acquaint yourself with these ideas.
I have the love of Christ in my heart for 5-Point Calvinists....and I am inspired by their zeal for the Word and for genuine discipleship. I wish all Christians loved the Scriptures the way most 5-Point Calvinists do. I am simply expressing the concern many Christians have about certain aspects of their doctrine. Hopefully, some 5-Point Calvinists will be open to reconsidering "limited atonement" and "double predestination." I do not believe these particular doctrines are taught in Scripture....and therefore I do not believe these positions bring glory to the Lord.
Like millions of believers today, I find passages in Scripture that describe Jesus dying for His sheep. (see John 10:15) I find other passages which describe Jesus dying for everyone in the world. (see Hebrews 2:9) And I find still other passages stating Christ died for His sheep, AND for all people in the world. (see 1 John 2:2) But I do not find so much as one passage in God's inerrant Word which says Christ died ONLY for His sheep. This is why "limited atonement" is such a disturbing teaching....because it is not taught in the Bible....and because it claims that Jesus died only for the "elect" who will believe....but not for everyone else....and that everyone else is essentially "ineligible" for salvation from the moment they come into this world.
The doctrine of limited atonement robs Christ of some of His glory because it misrepresents what Christ accomplished on the cross. I understand that some faithful believers hold to the teaching of limited atonement (also known as "particular redemption")....and I am thankful that we will enjoy wonderful fellowship with one another in heaven. Here on earth, however, we would be remiss to pretend that the doctrine of limited atonement is not really all that significant, one way or the other. I believe it is vitally important, and that is has definite implications for evangelism....and prayer....and the purity of the Gospel itself.
I would like to offer 7 prayers which could be prayed by 5-Point Calvinists....and are in accord with their positions. I offer these prayers without an ounce of disrespect for these men of God and brothers in Christ who love the Lord. I do not question the sincerity and the commitment of those men who subscribe to these doctrines. (Aren't most 5-Pointers men?) I simply find myself being compelled, in love, to address these concerns.
If nothing else, perhaps some 5-Pointers will come to recognize that they don't necessarily have a lock on the doctrine of predestination....and that they have overstepped biblical revelation by insisting that God predestined multitudes of people to hell.
So what are these 7 prayers 5-Pointers could pray? Well....here they are....and if you are a 5-Pointer, please receive this in the spirit in which it is given....coming from a brother, who like you, loves the Lord and is passionate about true doctrine and reaching others for Christ.
1. "Lord, save my unbelieving uncle....if he is one of the elect."
2. "Lord, save my unbelieving neighbor....if she is one of the elect you died to save."
3. "Thank you Lord for dying on the cross for those people who belong to the elect."
4. "Help me Lord to be careful when I preach the Gospel that I do not give the impression that Christ died for everyone."
5. "Lord, lead my teenage daughter to have faith in You....if she is predestined to be one of your sheep."
6. "Thank you Lord for determining before a person is born whether You have predestined him to go to heaven....or predestined him to go to hell."
7. "Thank you Lord for making me your child and a 5-Point Calvinist, as compared to the other perspectives of my fellow believers."
It boils down to whether you believe the Bible teaches "single predestination," or "double predestination." One is biblical, and yet seems to be illogical. The other is unbiblical, and yet seems logical to some believers. The biblical doctrine of single predestination is not the only doctrine in the Bible which seems to defy logic. So also does the doctrine of the Trinity. Both doctrines are accepted by believers because the Holy Spirit gives us the discernment to believe them.
In the case of predestination, human logic teaches man that if God predestined believers to heaven….then likewise, He must have predestined the rest of humanity to hell. That is an abhorrent teaching, and it is found nowhere in Scripture. It is found only in the logic of man, including the logic of some Christians.
The doctrine of single predestination in the Bible has been placed there by the Holy Spirit to comfort God's children with the assurance of their salvation. It is addressed to believers....and not unbelievers. Not a word is said in Scripture to support the unholy doctrine of double predestination.
Everyone is commanded to repent. (see Acts 17:30) Anyone can come to Christ. "Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life." (Rev. 22:17) Salvation is available to all because "Christ died for sins once for all." (1 Peter 3:18) The Scriptures make it clear that Christ is "the Savior all men, and especially of those who believe." (1 Timothy 4:10) How much clearer could it be?
What if those believers who mistakenly use their logic to come up with double predestination were to also use their logic with the doctrine of the Trinity? Scripture clearly teaches that there is only One God. Human logic does not do well when trying to "fit" Three Persons into One God….and yet, that is what the Bible reveals to us….and it is what the Holy Spirit gives Christians the discernment to believe….even though it appears illogical to say there are Three Persons in One God.
If those who embrace all 5 points of modern Calvinism were to "back off" on their logical deduction of double predestination….and just go with what Scripture says about single predestination….there might be little disagreement among Christians on this issue. As it is, these conflicting views certainly do not keep either "camp" from being spiritually united with one another in the body of Christ. As St. John told us, "If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin." (1 John 1:7)
Dr. Ron Rhodes is a "4-Point Calvinist." He writes, "If Christ died only for the elect, how can the offer of salvation be made to all persons without some sort of insincerity, artificiality, or dishonesty being involved?" He is right on target. So if you have bought into 5-Point Calvinism, the message here is...."buyer beware."
In contrast to the "5-Point" prayers, here are 7 prayers which Christians who believe in single predestination and unlimited atonement could sincerely pray:
1. "Lord, save my unbelieving uncle....and I have absolute confidence from your Word that Jesus died for him and wants him in heaven."
2. "Lord, save my unbelieving neighbor....and thank you Jesus for dying on the cross for her sins."
3. "Thank you Lord for giving your life for the sins of everyone in the world, just as your Word says."
4. "Help me Lord to be careful when I preach the Gospel that I make it clear that Christ died "once for all." (1 Peter 3:18)
5. "Lord, bring my teenage daughter to faith in You....because I know you love her and want her in heaven."
6. "Thank you Lord for determining before a person is born that he or she, like all people, is eligible for salvation through repentance and faith in Christ."
7. "Thank you Lord for making me your child and for teaching me the truth about single predestination and unlimited atonement, and thank you for my fellow Christians who have different views than my own on this issue."
One day, we who are in God's family will all be together in heaven. Perhaps the Lord will sit us down and fully explain these issues to us....or perhaps He won't need to do so. "Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." (1 Cor. 13:12)
In the meantime, we can thank the Lord for all that He is accomplishing in His kingdom through faithful Christians who hold different views from one another on baptism....and on predestination and limited atonement....and yet, are in complete agreement with one another that only the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin. Where we agree with one another in God's family is greater than where we disagree.
At the end of the day, all believers are related to one another through Christ's blood....and we have an eternal connection with each other because of the love of God. "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace." (Ephesians 1:7) How cool is that!
And besides....I have never heard of a family where everyone agrees with one another on every issue....have you?
Dan Delzell is the pastor of Wellspring Lutheran Church in Papillion, Neb. He is a regular contributor to The Christian Post.