Baptism

I have already talked a great deal about baptism here. What I want to do here is to note a few more rather important things that the WCF says about baptism. Baptism is said explicitly to admit the one baptized into the visible church (28.1). The divines were very careful here not to ascribe too much to baptism. They were also careful not to ascribe too little to baptism. However, that is not usually what is being attacked these days. These days, most of the attacks are coming from people ascribing too much to baptism. The nature of the grace “exhibited and conferred” is that of sign and seal. Sign and seal modify ALL the phrases in 28.1: “sign and seal of the covenant of grace, (sign and seal) of his ingrafting into Christ, (sign and seal) of regeneration, (sign and seal) of remission of sins, etc.”

Baptism is not necessarily the time-point of regeneration, as 28.5 confirms. It can be, but that would not be by the bare rite of baptism. One of the most helpful things that the WCF says is that “the efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered.” Some have twisted this to mean that the WCF is saying that the efficacy starts at baptism, but is not tied down to it: that is, that it is not a one-time shot of grace. This is not what the WCF is saying. The WCF is saying that baptism’s efficacy can be a “delayed reaction.” This is clear from the “yet notwithstanding” right after the semi-colon, which indicates that the grace being exhibited and conferred might have been denied given the first phrase of 28.6. If that grace might have been denied given the first phrase of the section, then the first phrase cannot mean that the grace starts immediately at the time point of baptism, but is not tied down to that moment. Otherwise, the flow of argument would make no sense. Rather, it must mean that there can be a “delayed reaction.” This is confirmed by the last phrase of the section “in His appointed time.” The grace comes in His appointed time, if it comes.

That it does not necessarily come is confirmed by the last part of 28.5: “grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it…that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.” This phrase is sometimes taken to mean that grace and salvation are normally annexed to it. However, this is an invalid inference, since the target against which this section aims is the belief that it is okay to neglect the ordinance of baptism. The target is not those who say that grace and salvation are always annexed to baptism. I take the word “so” in that phrase to mean “thus.” It is not an indication of degree. A parallel would be the KJV translation of John 3:16: “For God so loved the world…” The word “so” there does not indicate that God loved the world this much. It indicates that God loved the world so, thusly. So also here (pun intended). A synonymous rendering would be “grace and salvation are not in such a way inseparably annexed unto it as that…” If we use the word “thus,” however, we must be careful to note that the word would not have a “therefore” connotation, but rather the word would set the interpretation, as in the rendering I have adopted above.

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Divorce

Matthew 5:31-32
One professional divorce lawyer in the US said this, “Death is less traumatic than divorce, because with death, it’s over. With divorce, it’s never over.” One in every two marriages in this country ends in divorce. Divorce is a worse epidemic than AIDS or abortion. Someone called divorce “the death of a small civilization.” Never in the entire history of the world has divorce been so prominent a feature of a culture. So let us listen carefully to what Jesus has to say us about this very important issue.

Jesus has just finished talking about lust. Lust leads naturally to adultery, which is one of the main causes for divorce. And so we see that the previous passage leads very naturally into this one.

But we find difficulties almost right away. Jesus seems to be contradicting what Moses said. Moses allowed divorce, but he said that the husband must give the wife a certificate of divorce. This was to prevent the husband from taking her back again after she had married and divorced again. This is the passage from Deuteronomy 24: “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, 2 and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, 3 and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, 4 then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the LORD. Do not bring sin upon the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.” What does this passage tell us about divorce? This case in Deuteronomy is about a man who divorces a wife; the wife marries another man, and then divorces her second husband. The first husband is NOT allowed to take her back again. That certificate means that it is final. There is no more argument about it. It’s done, never again to be undone.
 Now, there were two schools of thought on what constituted grounds for divorce in the Rabbinic thought. The one school was that of Rabbi Hillel. They were the loose ones. They thought that almost any reason would be sufficient for a man to divorce his wife, even if it was as trivial as burning his supper. The other school, the school of Shammai, was much more strict. They thought that the only acceptable reason for divorce was adultery. As we can see, Jesus sides with the school of Shammai very strongly. Hillel was wrong in Jesus’ opinion. The problem with Hillel was that they focused on the permission given by Moses, and they focused on the certificate. What they should have focused on instead was the institution of marriage itself.

Jesus focused on marriage, on what it was, and why it was inviolable. To understand better what Jesus says here, let’s look at what he says later on in Matthew 19:1-12: “When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. 2 Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. 3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” 4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” 7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” 8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” 10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” Here we see that marriage as originally created was what Jesus was talking about. He goes back to creation. Notice here that Moses did NOT command a divorce to occur. Moses was saying, “If a divorce happens, this is what should happen: there should be a certificate of divorce.” Some people were trying to make Moses say that he commanded a divorce in any case for whatever reason. But Jesus was trying to tell us about Himself and the church. That is really what marriage is all about.

Listen to what Paul says in Ephesians 5:22-33: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church– 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery– but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” There we have it: God has married the church to his Son, Jesus Christ. Is Jesus Christ going to divorce His church? No, even though there is plenty of provocation. Remember OT Israel and the many times they went astray? They went after other gods, and committed idolatry with them. That is spiritual adultery. And yet, even then, even after all that, even after the Exile, God still loved His people enough to send His Son Jesus to redeem us back from slavery to sin. Ultimately, avoiding divorce is all about the Gospel. God still loved us enough to pursue us, even after we had committed spiritual adultery. So if God is not going to divorce His church, then why should we divorce our spouse? What gives us the right? If marriage is supposed to look like God and His people, then why is there so much divorce in our day and age? The reason for it is that people do not understand what marriage is.

Marriage is a covenant until death between man and wife. It is a commitment. It is not something that undergoes a trial period, and then the option remains open to can the whole thing. Divorce is not an option. That is what Jesus is saying here. There is one case, and one case only in Jesus teaching, whereby divorce is allowable, and that is when the marriage bond is completely destroyed by adultery. But even so, nowhere does Scripture command a divorce when adultery happens. I have read of countless cases where adultery happened, and yet forgiveness was there, too. If God can forgive us when we commit spiritual adultery, then surely we can forgive our spouse if they commit adultery.

Forgiveness, however, should never be an excuse for sin. As William Bennett noted in his important book called _The Broken Hearth_, adultery is responsible for most divorces. Furthermore, if a couple is intimate before marriage, they are twice as likely to get a divorce after marriage. Why? Because they did not hold the marriage bond to be sacred. That is why. Sex before marriage, or sex after marriage with someone other than your spouse is what can break a marriage. That is why a prohibition of divorce falls under the seventh commandment. But all other things are to be worked through. Now, we are dealing here with a marriage between Christian and Christian. Paul has further instructions for those marriages where neither partner was a Christian, and then one of them converted. You can read about that in I Corinthians 7, which I am not going to read here. Jesus is talking to people who are in the Kingdom of God, who are in a covenant relationship with God. Those people are not to divorce for any reason other than adultery. I do not intend to focus too much on the exception, because Jesus does not focus on the exception, but on the general rule, which is: do not divorce your spouse. When marriage gets tough, that’s when forgiveness, and keeping short accounts comes into play, and is so vital to the health of a marriage. If your spouse has something against you, that’s when you go to your spouse and make things right. Don’t wait until tomorrow. You may not have a chance tomorrow. You need to keep short accounts.

What about adultery? You need to take delight in your spouse. The Bible says on several occasions that you are to fully enjoy your spouse in marital intimacy. 1 Corinthians 7 says that neither the wife nor the husband is to deprive the other of marital intimacy. That is not permitted. Why? Because neither body belongs to just one person. That is a radical thought in our culture where everyone says, “This is my body, and I’ll do with it what I want.” That is directly opposed by Paul’s teaching, which says that the husband’s body belongs to his wife, and the wife’s body belongs to the husband. Don’t deprive the other person. Some people think that the Puritans were very prudish about these sorts of things. That is terribly unfair. There was one case in New England, where the wife came to the session of the church and complained that her husband was not giving her marital intimacy. After due process, and going through the pattern of church discipline, they excommunicated the husband for not giving marital intimacy to his wife. This is serious stuff. Do we see the connection between our marriages and the marriage between Christ and His church? If we saw that clearly, then we would understand with crystal clarity that statement of God in Malachi: “I hate divorce,” says the Lord God. God hates divorce, because it shatters something that is supposed to resemble Christ and the church. But a divorce can never do that. The command here then is not merely to avoid divorce, and everything that leads up to it, but to actively protect our marriages, and try to make them shine and reflect that wonderful marriage between Christ and the church.