Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Feast of St. Patrick

March 17 is the Feast of St. Patrick. Most people know it as a day when we celebrate all things Irish
and when everyone gets to wear green, my favorite color. (In fact, I would join the petition to make green an alternate liturgical color, instead of Lent's purple, just for St. Patrick's Day!) - Yet there is much more significance to the day.

The real reason we celebrate is because of the amazing missionary work of Patrick during the 5th century. - As a boy, Patrick was kidnapped and enslaved as a shepherd in Ireland. After his escape several years later, he entered Holy Orders in Britain. He was ordained a Presbyter (i.e., Elder or Priest) and consecrated a Bishop. God called Patrick back to Ireland, where, by the grace of God, Patrick brought about, in large part, the conversion of Ireland. In the process, he Christianized Pagan sacred places and objects (a good lesson for current evangelicals).

Additionally, Patrick provided a great (though certainly not perfect!) means of speaking of the Holy Trinity by use of the three-leafed clover.

One of the most powerful prayers attributed to Patrick is The Lorica, or St. Patrick's Breastplate. While there is some doubt that it was actually written by the good bishop, it certainly expresses his faith.

While an abbreviated form of the Breastplate is found in Sing to the Lord, the Nazarene hymnal, the more complete version, as follows, was found on my friend, James Gibson's old blog. (His currently blog is Locust and Wild Honey.)- May God make this a reality for us all.




I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.

I bind this day to me forever,
by power of faith, Christ’s Incarnation;
his baptism in the Jordan river;
his death on cross for my salvation;
his bursting from the spiced tomb;
his riding up he heavenly way;
his coming at the day of doom:
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
of the great love of cherubim;
the sweet “Well done” in judgement hour;
the service of the seraphim;
confessors’ faith, apostles’ word,
the patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls;
all good deeds done unto the Lord,and purity of virgin souls.


I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the starlit heaven,
the glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free,
the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
the stable earth, the deep salt sea,
around the old eternal rocks.


I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
his eye to watch, his might to stay,
his ear to hearken to my need;
the wisdom of my God to teach,
his hand to guide, his shield to ward;
the word of God to give me speech,
his heavenly host to be my guard.


Against the demon snares of sin,
the vice that gives temptation force,
the natural lusts that war within,
the hostile men that mar my course;
of few or many, far or nigh,
in every place, and in all hours
against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.


Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
against false words of heresy,
against the knowledge that defiles
against the heart’s idolatry,
against the wizard’s evil craft,
against the death-wound and the burning
the choking wave and poisoned shaft,
protect me, Christ, till thy returning.


Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.


I bind unto myself the Name,
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation,
eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.
 
_________________________________________
 
(This article is based on one of my previous posts.)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Theologically Discordant Hymns

Recently I attended the Mission Fifteen (M-15) conference in Kansas City, MO.  -  This is the conference that is held between Nazarene general assemblies.  It is sponsored by the U.S. / Canada Region of the Church of the Nazarene.  -  Actually, I presented a workshop on Wesleyan Worship during the Pre-Conference, and, hopefully before long, I will be able to link to a video of that workshop.

While at the M-15 conference, among the many workshops I attended, I went to one presented by Dr. Frank M. Moore.  Dr. Moore is the editor of the denominational magazine, Holiness Today.  He was presenting a workshop that promoted the new "Nazarene Essentials" edition of the magazine sponsored by the Board of General Superintendents of the Church of the Nazarene.

One of the many things that Dr. Moore was "up in arms" about (and really, rightly so!) was Nazarenes listening to and singing songs/hymns that contain Reformed lyrics.  Such really is a problem because, it is true, we really do (begin to) believe what we sing.  This is why it has sometimes been argued that Charles Wesley was much more influential for early Methodists than John.  After all, it was Charles' hymns, more than John's sermons, that shaped the beliefs of the people called Methodists.  -  They sang the Wesley hymns much more often than they read one of John's sermons.

Dr. Moore was quite concerned that in singing such songs we have produced members who think that we actually believe what we are singing, when we don't and never have!  Further, many do not seem to understand, at all, why we wouldn't or shouldn't believe such claims.

Frankly, I pressed Dr. Moore to give some examples of such Reformed lyrics.  I did this, not because I didn't have a good idea of some, myself, but because I thought there may be some attending the workshop who really had no idea what he was talking about.

The one song that he thought of, off the top of his head,was one that has previously been a topic of conversation among some of my colleagues, viz., "In Christ Alone" by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend.

Actually, I quite like the song . . . for the most part.  However, there is one troublesome line, for we Wesleyans.  -  Here is the hymn in its entirety:

In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone, Who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For ev'ry sin on Him was laid—
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain;
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory,
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am His and He is mine—
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow'r of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow'r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow'r of Christ I'll stand.
 
Truly, there are a number of lines that could be read from a Reformed point of view, though, I would suggest, they do not have to be read from that point of view.  For example, nearly the entirety of the last verse could be understood from a Reformed perspective, but it need not be the case at all.  However, the one line that does cause an issue is the sixth line of the second verse which declares that when Jesus died on the cross, "The wrath of God was satisfied."  -  For this line, it has been suggested that we substitute the words, "The love of God was magnified," which is much more consistent with a Wesleyan perspective.
 
However, the song that came to my mind is the 1758 classic hymn by Robert Robinson, "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing."  -  The original words to the third verse (at least the third verse that appears in most modern hymnals) are:


 
3. O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let that grace now like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here's my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

 
In a brilliant move (and I have yet to trace exactly how this happened), the Nazarene hymnal (and others in the Holiness Movement) changed this third verse.  Frankly, I am not aware of any other hymn that we (Nazarenes) have actually taken pains to edit theologically.  Nevertheless, I am thrilled that we have made this change.  -  The revised verse, consistent with Wesleyan theology, says:
 
3. O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let that grace, now, like a fetter,
Bind my yielded heart to Thee.
Let me know Thee in Thy fullness;
Guide me by Thy mighty hand
Till, transformed, in Thine own image
In Thy presence I shall stand.

 
Frankly, I have been dismayed over these last few years, while serving in the United Methodist Church, that the United Methodists, who have spent time editing various hymns, have retained the original, non-Wesleyan(!), version in their hymnal.  -  I will confess that when we sing the hymn and project it at the United Methodist churches where I serve, we sing the Wesleyan version!

How unfortunate that the older, non-Wesleyan version has found its way back into the Church of the Nazarene via a contemporary version of the hymn that has had popular air play on the radio.  -  In fact, I was very surprised to hear it sung, not with the contemporary version, but in a choral piece at a Nazarene retreat. 

With music being seen by so many as having such importance in worship (and I agree that it plays an important, though not the primary role in worship), we pastors who have been given the responsibility to lead the Church in worship are responsible to make sure that what we sing is consistent with what we believe.  For, indeed, we will believe what we sing.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Begun, The Lenten Journey Has

(Okay, I confess, this is a repeat from last year, this time.  However, I really liked the whole Star Wars connection, so . . .  -  Unfortunately, due to the weather, our Ash Wednesday service has been canceled this year!  -  Anyway, here's the article . . . with a couple new comments interjected:)
 
Yes, it's true.  I'm not just a "liturgy nerd."  I'm also a "sci-fi nerd!"  So, obviously, the title to this post is a take off of Yoda's "Begun, the clone war has."  -  Ya' gotta' love Yoda! (And then I had to add a pic of Mace Windu, because he uses a purple lightsaber, and it is Lent . . .)

 

 In any case, today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the forty day (not counting Sundays) season of Lent. Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lencten, which means “spring” (which is so ironic, given our record setting cold temperatures this week!). The season is a preparation for celebrating the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday. Historically, Lent began as a period of fasting and preparation for baptism by converts and then became a time for penance by all Christians.

Most churches that observe the season of lent will mark their worship space with somber colors such as purple (cf., Mace Windu's lightsaber!) or ash gray and rough-textured cloth as most appropriate symbols.

Ash Wednesday provides us with the opportunity to confront our own mortality and to confess our sin before God within the community of faith. The form and content of the Ash Wednesday Service focuses on the themes of sin and death, but it does so within the context of God’s redeeming love in Jesus Christ.

The use of ashes as a sign of mortality and repentance has a long history in Jewish and Christian worship, and the Imposition of Ashes can be a powerful and tangible way of participating in the call to repentance and reconciliation.
During the season of Lent, many Christians engage in specific efforts at prayer and fasting and various forms of abstinence.  (This year, a couple of people I know are "taking on" some things, rather than just "giving up" things, e.g., one is adding 15 minutes a day of Bible reading; another is taking up writing prisoners.)  Sometimes these special efforts are viewed as a kind of legalism imposed by certain denominations.  (Some Roman Catholics view it this way, though that is not the intent of the Roman Catholic Church.)  Others see this as a way of simply "proving they can do it."  And there are those who see Lent as a time to jump-start their diets.  (Though the loss of weight may be a favorable side effect, that is not the purpose of fasting!)

There are others, however, who recognize that fasting and the various forms of abstinence are truly spiritual disciplines with the intent of opening us up to God's presence and grace in preparation for the great celebration of Easter. 

Coming from a branch of Methodism that has thoroughly embraced the Camp Meeting and Revivalism, I have always told our people that Lent is revival preparation!  -  When we would schedule a revival with an evangelist, we would do more than schedule the revival.  We would set aside specific times for prayer and fasting, seeking God's face for the revival services, the evangelist, the lost in our community, the Church, and ourselves.  "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.  See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." (Psalm 139:23-24)  -  That, very much, is what happens during Lent.

Additionally, in the congregations where I have served, I have made it a practice of distributing to everyone a "World Methodist Call to Prayer and Fasting and to Faith-Sharing" bookmark on the Sunday prior to Ash Wednesday.  This book mark, produced by World Methodist Evangelism, calls our people to participate in the "Wesley fast."

The WME website says this about the bookmarks:

The 2001 World Methodist Conference in England called upon Methodists around the world to "follow the Wesleyan Pattern of Prayer and Fasting, focusing on spreading the gospel of Christ Jesus through word, deed and sign" by participating in the same weekly fast which John Wesley observed most of his life. Because of this commitment, Methodists in 130 countries go without solid food after their evening meal each Thursday until mid-afternoon each Friday.

This time of fasting is focused in prayer for the vision of World Evangelism -- to see the Methodist movement alive, vibrant, growing and yearning to spread the good news of Christ Jesus in a world that so desperately needs healing, hope and salvation. Methodist churches and groups are encouraged to participate in the Wesleyan Pattern of Prayer and Fasting during Lent and/or during the period between Easter and Pentecost.

These ENGLISH PRAYER AND FASTING CARDS are available free of charge, in reasonable quantities, for congregations or groups wishing to participate in this worldwide commitment. The 2 3/4 x 8 1/2 inch laminated cards contain an explanation of the Prayer and Fasting Commitment plus special prayers for Thursday Evening, Friday Morning, Friday Noon, and Friday at the time of breaking the fast.

I would encourage all pastors in denominations that are members of the World Methodist Council to order these free bookmarks by going to the WME website, here.  Further, anyone who may pastor in a Wesleyan/Methodist denomination that is not a member of the WMC is still encouraged to join in this fast, during the season of Lent (and beyond!).

In the United States, the denominations that hold membership in the World Methodist Council are:

African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church,

Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Church of the Nazarene, Free Methodist Church,

The United Methodist Church, and The Wesleyan Church.

Indeed, may we "see the Methodist movement alive, vibrant, growing and yearning to spread the good news of Christ Jesus in a world that so desperately needs healing, hope and salvation."  And may we see lives marvelously transformed by the great grace of God!  In the name of and for the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen

Saturday, January 31, 2015

That's Roman Catholic!

This evening I was reading John Wesley's Plain Account of the Methodists in Volume 9 of The Works of John Wesley.  He was writing about those who complained about the "bands" of people who gathered together, confessed their sins to each other, and prayed and encouraged each other in their spiritual growth.  -  THIS WAS A GREAT PARAGRAPH!  -  I have a feeling that several people who read this blog will be able to relate to this paragraph:

"An objection much more boldly and frequently urged, is that 'all these bands are mere popery'. I hope I need not pass a harder censure on those (most of them at least) who affirm this, than that they talk of they know not what, that they betray in themselves the most gross and shameful ignorance. Do not they yet know that the only popish confession is the confession made by a single person to a priest? (And this itself is in no wise condemned by our Church; nay, she recommends it in some cases.)  Whereas that we practice is the confession of several persons conjointly, not to a priest, but to each other. Consequently, it has no analogy at all to popish confession. But the truth is, this is a stale objection, which many people make against anything they do not like. It is all popery out of hand."

When I read that, I said to myself, "Ain't it the truth! Things never change!  'That's Roman Catholic!'"

Of course, John Wesley was accused, on the one hand, of being an enthusiast (i.e., a fanatic), and, on the other hand, he was accused of being a Roman Catholic Jesuit.  -  Neither accusation were correct, but it is nice to know that I'm in good company!

Friday, January 30, 2015

A Review of "John Wesley In America: Restoring Primitive Christianity" by Dr. Geordan Hammond


Hammond, Geordan. John Wesley in America: Restoring Primitive Christianity. Oxford University Press. 2014. (237 pages)

From Dr. Geordan Hammond comes the first book-length study of John Wesley’s ministry in America. . . . and it is fantastic! 
 
Geordan Hammond, Ph.D. is Director of the Manchester Wesley Research Centre, and Senior Lecturer in Church History and Wesley Studies at Nazarene Theological College, and his most recent publication is the kind of book that “Wesleyan/Anglican” type folks will thoroughly devour.  It is true that it is not simply a book on liturgy, sacraments or worship.  However, most Wesleyans who would describe themselves as being “on the Canterbury trail”   John Wesley’s concern for continuity with the early Church is precisely what Geordan Hammond focuses on in this book.
Dr. Geordan Hammond
are interested in those things, at least in part, because they point us back to the practices of the early Church.

Many of Wesley’s biographers tend to overlook Wesley’s time in Georgia, or they have simply treated it as a failure.  Many nineteenth-century Methodists were guilty of “de-Anglicanizing” Wesley.  For them, the mission to Georgia’s real importance is as a backdrop leading to Wesley’s evangelical conversion at Aldersgate.  -  Hammond easily demonstrates the flaws in this perspective.

Hammond presents an abundance of evidence from Wesley’s own writings, as well as those of his contemporaries, showing that Wesley used the mission in Georgia as a laboratory for implementing his understanding of the primitive Church.  He argues that the desire to restore the doctrine, discipline, and practice of the early Church was the primary reason that Wesley took on the Georgia mission, and without that understanding, historians and theologians will not be able to adequately evaluate Wesley’s mission in America.

Hammond shows that Wesley’s ecclesiology matched that of the Usager Nonjurors.  Thus, like other High Churchmen, Wesley stressed the centrality of the sacraments in worship.  Further, Wesley’s views of the early Church are seen in his devotional discipline, sacramental doctrine and practice, and his conduct in leading worship.  He sought to imitate the practices of the primitive church through his revisions of the Book of Common Prayer, precise sacramental observance, confession, penance, ascetical discipline, the utilization of deaconesses, religious societies, and his mission to the Indians.

Further, Hammond demonstrates that this concern for continuity with the primitive Church did not end in Georgia.  Rather, it continued throughout John Wesley’s life.  Indeed, there were areas of change in Wesley’s understanding and practice, but he maintained his belief in the primitive Church as a normative model for Christian faith and practice. 

While the central argument of the book is that the ideal of restoring primitive Christianity was at the forefront of Wesley’s thinking and is crucial to interpreting the Georgia mission, a number of secondary themes are also found.  Hammond seeks to analyze Wesley in context as an Anglican clergyman rather than interpreting his Georgia mission as a “preface to victory.”  When possible, Hammond demonstrates the connection between Wesley’s reading and practice of primitive Christianity.  Third, he provides a fresh perspective on Wesley’s interaction with the colonists, Moravians, Lutheran Pietists, and Miss Sophia (!) by interpreting those relationships within the context of Wesley’s desire to renew primitive Christianity. 

In this work, Hammond also considers the primary documents written by Wesley and his contemporaries and evaluates those journals, diaries, letters, etc., with a particular view as to how other biographers have used or misused them.  Further, Hammond makes thorough use of sources seldom utilized by other Wesley biographers.

In order to accomplish his goals, Hammond divides the book into five chapters.  Chapter one investigates the influence of the concept of primitive Christianity on Wesley’s theology and practice prior to the Georgia mission.  Chapter 2 focuses on the theme of primitive Christianity on the voyage to Georgia.  Chapter 3 analyzes Wesley’s relationship with the Moravians and Lutheran Pietists through the lens of his devotion to his High Church Anglican understanding of primitive Christianity. 

It is in chapter four that Hammond focuses on the application of Wesley’s view of primitive Christianity in Georgia, proper.  Here we watch Wesley endeavor to imitate the practices of Christ and the early Church through his interest in prayer book revisions, sacramental observance, confession, penance, ascetical discipline, deaconesses, religious societies, and mission to the Indians.  Though Hammond shows that Wesley’s confidence in the early church councils and canons were diminished by the time he left Georgia, he nevertheless shows that his pursuance of the form and spirit of the primitive church remained.

In the final chapter we take a look at the opposition to Wesley’s ministry.  He was viewed by some as an enthusiast (or fanatic).  Others accused him of being Roman Catholic.  He was seen by many as being divisive.  Further, Hammond argues that the Sophia Williamson controversy is best understood within the context of opposition by male colonists to Wesley’s ministry to women, in general.

At the conclusion of the book, Hammond produces an evaluation of Wesley’s mission to Georgia that stands in sharp contrast to those who have claimed it to be a failure.  It is in this section that Hammond discusses continuity and discontinuity between Wesley’s views of primitive Christianity while in Georgia compared to his views later in life.  He clearly shows Wesley’s continuing interest in the Church Fathers and the primitive church as normative models for doctrine and practice, and that he was convinced that Methodism was the restoration of primitive Christianity.

One critical note:  Hammond seems to assume at a couple of points that those reading his book will come to it with a sufficient knowledge of English history, as well as an understanding of the identity of some of the “key players” in Wesley’s England.  He does get around to explaining who the Nonjurors are, for example, but one has to wait a bit for it.  This is not necessarily bad.  However, it may require a bit of patience for the uninformed.  Additionally, it may well spur on further investigation, which is always a good thing.

This book also raises some questions for Wesleyan/Anglican types, like me.  If Wesley was so convinced of the Usager points while in Georgia, and if he continued to be so committed to primitive Christianity (and I agree with both statements!), then what was it that caused him to so modify his views when it came time to produce “The Sunday Service”?  -  It is understandable that he would not include instructions about using a mixed chalice.  After all, he cuts out plenty of the instructional material from the BCP.  However, why did he not include clear oblation language or a clear epiclesis during the Eucharistic prayers? 

Those are some of the burning questions that I was left with after reading Hammond’s book.  -  I really wish that he would have answered those questions for me, but, alas, it seems that they were (frustratingly!) just beyond the scope of this work. 

As I indicated, this is a fantastic read!  It is a must for all students of John Wesley, and especially for those Wesleyan/Anglican types who read this blog.  (It is a bit pricey, but . . . ) I very highly recommend this book.  -  It is my hope that many 21st Century Wesleyan/Methodists will (re)discover Wesley’s commitment to continuity with the primitive Church and will adapt such a commitment for their lives and ministry.

For information on purchasing a copy of Dr. Hammond's book, please follow this link.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Infant Baptism IV: What Happens When Infants are Baptized?

*** A recent Facebook discussion among pastors on my (Nazarene) district, has prompted me to re-post a four part series on Infant Baptism.  This series was originally posted in 2008.***

In my previous posts on this topic I have attempted to set the practice of Nazarenes baptizing infant children within historical context. I then gave some of the reasons why we Wesleyan/Methodist Christians do baptize our young children. - This final post in my series on Infant Baptism has already generated some discussion in the comments section, and I have already given enough away in that section so that readers already have a pretty good idea where I am headed in this post.

Let me begin by identifying what seems to be the most common thoughts by Nazarene theologians (in writing) concerning what happens in infant Baptism. I will attempt to do that by looking to the two most recent Systematic Theologies produced by Nazarene theologians.

In A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology (Beacon Hill P. '94), Kenneth Grider says, "Even as God entered into a covenant with the male infant who was circumcised on his eighth day of life, God enters into a covenant to give special helps to an infant who is baptized. - This leads to the suggestion that infant baptism affirms the doctrine of prevenient grace - so important as a doctrine for Arminian-Wesleyanism" (503).

Ray Dunning, in Grace Faith and Holiness (Beacon Hill P. '88), says, "This may be interpreted as saying that baptism is the ordinary (a term Wesley insisted on) means by which the child appropriates prevenient grace, which would nonetheless by efficacious apart from baptism even as adults may be born again without the administering of water" (548, second group of italics mine). - (I would mention that Ray Dunning was my Theology professor at Trevecca Nazarene University. I hold him in high esteem and credit him with being the first to introduce me to a more classical Wesleyan Theology . . . though, at this point I have to say, I think he missed it.)

And, finally, the ritual for "The Baptism of Infants or Young Children" in the Manual (the Nazarene Book of Discipline) states clearly, "While we do not hold that baptism imparts the regenerating grace of God . . . Christian baptism signifies for this young child God's gracious acceptance on the basis of His prevenient grace in Christ and points forward to his (her) personal appropriation of the benefits of the Atonement when he (she) reaches the age of moral accountability and exercises conscious saving faith in Jesus Christ" (p 236).

Thus, it becomes clear that most Nazarenes seem to identify the Baptism of infants as a means of proclaiming that prevenient grace is at work in the child.

There are a couple of problems with this position, from my perspective. First, (except in the case of Dunning, above) this position removes Infant Baptism from the category of sacrament. A sacrament for Wesleyan Christians is an outward sign of an inward grace and a means whereby we receive the same. In the position espoused above the Baptism of infants is no longer a means whereby grace is received, but rather merely a means of proclamation . . . that prevenient grace is already at work in the child. (Dunning manages to escape this trap by identifying Baptism as "the ordinary . . . means by which the child appropriates prevenient grace," even though he goes on to say that it would nevertheless be efficacious without Baptism.)

In addition to the problem of stripping Infant Baptism from its "sacramental status" is the issue of what "prevenient grace" refers to. - Certainly, it refers to God's grace that "goes before" we can do anything. And, in as much as that is true, Infant Baptism does proclaim the prevenient nature (at least) of grace. However, when speaking of prevenient grace, one usually refers to that grace that extends to all humanity due to the Atonement of Christ, which is at work in every sinner's heart, seeking to awaken, convict, convert, and sanctify, and granting us the gracious ability to respond to the call of the gospel (cf. An Introduction to Wesleyan Theology. Greathouse/Dunning. Beacon Hill P. '89. p 60 & 72). In the case of infants, what is essentially being said in baptism (according to the view espoused above) is that our children are "covered by the atonement" until they reach an age of moral accountability. - Keep in mind, this is true whether we baptize them or not. Infant Baptism is seen as simply proclaiming that particular aspect of God's grace.

The problem is that while the practice of Infant Baptism is consistent with Wesley, and the doctrine of prevenient grace is consistent with Wesley, the combining of those two doctrines in the way that Nazarenes have (above) is completely foreign to Wesley (and the ancient Church). In fact, such a view seems to have only recently originated within the Wesleyan-holiness tradition (though there may be evidence of it in some earlier Methodist writings).

So what was Wesley's view? - Frankly, Wesley believed that infants who were faithfully baptized were then and there regenerate and "born again." Wesley does not identify Baptism as being the same thing as the new birth. And he recognizes that a person may be "born of water," and yet not "born of the Spirit" (Staples 184). And, one may experience being "born of the Spirit" by faith prior to Baptism, as seen in Acts. However, of infants Wesley says, ". . . all who are baptized in their infancy are at the same time born again . . ." (Wesley's Works 6:74).

Such a view does not mean that the child does not need to "own the faith" for his/herself when they are old enough to do so. They, like all of us, must do so. Neither does it mean that they cannot fall from grace (as in a kind of "once baptized, always saved" idea). It is also important to note that Wesley rejects a mechanical ex oper operato doctrine. Rather we are called to bring our children to the sacrament of Baptism with faith in Christ.

I am of the opinion that John Wesley's view is more consistent with that of the Church Fathers, and I am in full agreement with him on this point.

Now, how does a Nazarene maintain such a position? If I were a United Methodist, the answer would be simple: Wesley's Standard Sermons are a part of their doctrinal standards, and Wesley, there, espouses this position. But we Nazarenes do not have that standard listed in our Manual. - Nevertheless, I would maintain that such a view is not contrary to our Articles of Faith (though it certainly is not espoused there). I recall a very helpful conversation with a former professor of mine concerning the sacraments. I ask him how he reconciled his own views with the Manual's so very weak (sacramentally speaking) statements on The Lord's Supper. He replied that he believed our Manual statement . . . he believed "at least that much." - My views on infant Baptism, I think, fall into the same category.

It is true, however, that our ritual for infant Baptism seems to outright deny Wesley's position as even a possibility. In order to make it compatible one would have to invoke a technicality that says Baptism does not impart regenerating grace; God imparts regenerating grace through Baptism. But it must be admitted that the intent of the ritual is to rule out such a view.

I take solace in knowing that we are not bound by the rituals in our Manual, and thus not by doctrinal positions placed there which are absent from our Articles of Faith. This is illustrated in a number of ways. First, with the exception of the ritual for membership, the Manual does not require the use of our rituals. Second, it was the Manual Editing Committee that commissioned Dr. Jesse Middendorf (now General Superintendent) to write The Church Rituals Handbook, which our publishing house produced. And finally, if our rituals are not used at our General Assembly by certain of our own General Superintendents, it surely means that we are not require to use them.

Therefore, while I may be awfully lonely, I believe myself to still fall within Nazarene boundaries when espousing Wesley's view of infant Baptism.

One final clarifying note on adult baptisms: such a view of infant Baptism does not imply that every adult who is baptized is thereby "born again." In the case of adults, the call is still to exercise faith in Christ, to repent and to be baptized. Also, while it may be maintained that Baptism is not absolutely necessary for salvation (i.e., a person may be "born again" prior to being baptized), nevertheless it must also be recognized that it is a command of our Lord, and the New Testament knows nothing of "unbaptized Christians."

Infant Baptism III: Why Wesleyans/Methodists Baptize Infants

*** A recent Facebook discussion among pastors on my (Nazarene) district, has prompted me to re-post a four part series on Infant Baptism.  This series was originally posted in 2008.***

In this post I do not intend to list all of the reasons why those of us in the Methodist tradition baptize infants. What I intend to do is briefly rehearse four of the reasons John Wesley gave. I find each of these to be strong arguments, but combined, I think them irrefutable arguments for infant Baptism (though I'm sure that my Baptist brothers and sister would disagree).

Prior to looking at these arguments, I want to make it clear that the Church of England affirmed the practice of infant baptism in its Articles of Religion, as well as in its rituals. So, too, Wesley not only followed the practice (having, of course, experienced it for himself in infancy), but passed the practice on to American Methodism through his Articles of Religion and the rituals of The Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America. The Church of the Nazarene, from its beginning, likewise retained the practice in its Articles of Faith and rituals as found in the Manual (our Book of Discipline).

In his "Treatise on Baptism," Wesley sets forth his reasons for retaining the catholic (i.e., universal) Christian practice of baptizing infants of Christian parents. For a thorough understanding of Wesley's thoughts on the matter, I commend his "Treatise" as found in the Jackson Edition of Wesley's Works vol. 10:188f. (Unless I've overlooked it, the Bicentennial/Oxford edition of the Works has not yet published a volume containing this "Treatise.")

The first compelling argument focuses on the covenant of God and the God given sign of the covenant. - It is clear from the Old Testament that the mark of the covenant was circumcision. All of the requirements of the Abrahamic covenant would seem to imply that infant children would be incapable of entering such a covenant. And yet, it is quite clear from Deut. 29:10-12 that "little ones" entered into covenant with God. Further, the mark of the covenant, viz., circumcision, was performed when the infant was only eight days old. Thus, it is clear that infant children of faithful Jews entered into the covenant with God through circumcision.

St. Paul identifies circumcision (the mark of the "old" covenant) and Baptism (the mark of the "new" covenant) in Col. 2:11-12. Baptism is now the sacrament of initiation into the covenant of God through Christ. Thus, there is in Scripture a continuity within the covenant before and after Christ, but through Christ, circumcision is replaced by Baptism. Wesley concludes "Infants are capable of entering into covenant with God. As they always were, so they still are, under the evangelical covenant. Therefore, they have a right to baptism, which is now the entering seal thereof" (10:195). - The continuity between the covenant mark of circumcision and Baptism is a strong argument for baptizing infant children of Christian parents.

The next argument I find compelling looks to Matthew 19:13-14 and Luke 18:15. There we see infant children being brought to Jesus. When the disciples tried to stop this from happening, Jesus rebuked His disciples. Jesus goes on to declare "it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs." In fact, Jesus tells us "whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." Thus, "infants are capable of coming to Christ [and ] of admission into the Church . . ." (10:195). - If Jesus makes the point that the kingdom belongs (uniquely) to these young children, and that we must enter the kingdom like them, then surely they should bear the kingdom mark in Baptism. Wesley concludes that infant children ought to be brought to Christ and admitted to the Church through the initiatory sacrament of Baptism.

The third and fourth compelling arguments focus on the tradition of the ancient Church. - Wesley argues that if the apostles baptized infants, then we must do the same. This proposal holds utmost strength, for me. - The problem is the New Testament does not give explicit proof that the apostles did baptize infants. However, Wesley is aware that the Jews baptized all infant children of proselytes. Since this was the practice, since Jesus and the apostles knew this practice, and since Jesus did not instruct the disciples otherwise (in addition to Jesus' clear teachings cited above), it seems very likely that the apostles would have baptized infant children of Christian converts. Further, the Scripture does record the instances of entire households being baptized. This is a term that would include any infants of that household. Finally, Wesley points to the words of St. Peter which, upon instructing the people to be baptized, declares "For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away . . ." (Acts 2:39 NRSV italics mine).

As an extension of the previous argument, Wesley's final compelling argument turns to the practice of the catholic (i.e., universal) Church. He argues that if the Baptism of infants was "the general practice of the Christian Church in all places and in all ages, then this must have been the practice of the Apostles, and, consequently, the mind of Christ" (10:197). Wesley goes on to list the Church Fathers as witnesses to the Church's practice of infant Baptism in all places and all times. Further he cites those Fathers who explicitly affirm that the practice was handed down by the holy apostles, themselves. And the Church has continued to baptize infant children of Christian parents to this day. (For more on this point, cf., my previous post.)

As I've stated, each of these arguments provide a strong rational for the practice of infant Baptism, but, when combined, they seem to me to be irrefutable. There are, undoubtedly, other arguments employed by Wesleyan/Methodist Christians for baptizing our children, but these four I find more than sufficient to settle the question.

In my next post in this series, I will turn to the question of what I believe is going on in the baptism of our infant children.