воскресенье, 11 августа 2013 г.

One of us (thoughts on Liam Goligher's move to Presbyterianism)

A famous preacher on the conservative evangelical circuit, pastor Liam Goligher, has become a Presbyterian. It all happened in the last few years. Prior to that he had been pastor of Duke Street (Baptist) church, where our friends are members. During this time Liam kindly met up with me on one occasion and we would also converse briefly after church during our annual home trips to the UK.

As I hope everyone knows, I am hugely indebted to my presbyterian brethren and hold them and their churches in the highest regard. However, since believers' baptism is being publicly challenged by a former Baptist, I shall defend it.

During the final period of pastor Goligher's pastoral charge at Duke Street on at least one occasion he shared his change of mind from the pulpit and I understand that covenant baptisms were performed in private. I have no doubt that the charge of heart was genuine. I imagine there are similar cases in the other direction - with ministers of paedo-baptist churches performing 'rebaptisms' while still serving as the ordained ministers of churches which profess the validity of baptism prior to profession of faith. In such cases of conscience it does seem best to formally resign from active ministry before changing practice, particularly when one has been inducted based on a different belief and practice. Presbyterians, in the tradition of Jean Calvin and David Dickson (and many others) have always placed unity and edification first, even in cases of differences of opinion.

Understandably, Liam Goligher is keen to share his change of views and has done so recently on the Gospel Coalition website. While pastoral busyness and the fact that he did not force credo-baptism on others are mitigating factors, Liam Goligher is well-known for his high view of Scripture and the pulpit ministry. He rightly expects those who hear him to take his stated views on Scripture at face value. And likewise members of a church expect the pastor to hold to the official teaching position of that church - particularly on such an important issue as the subjects of baptism. With all due respect, it is not fair to refer to 'their' church order in respect of a church of which one was serving as pastor: if you were the pastor it was your church order.

Pastor Goligher presents several lines of argument in favour of believers' baptism.

The New Covenant should be more inclusive than the Old. Why, if including women and Gentiles, would one exclude children? No-one is excluded "whom the Lord shall call" (Acts 2:39). The question boils down to whether one understands "all those the Lord will call" to refer to the *general* call of the gospel - in which case mere hearing the gospel qualifies one for baptism - or *effective* calling - in which case it is a response of faith which qualifies.

The passages in Hebrews about falling away. Yes, the hearers had received the Word and the sacraments, but were not of the elect. However there is nothing to suggest that they did so in infancy and everything points to an apostasy from adult faith (10:27,32).

The continuity of the covenant. Again, yes by all means, but there is also a discontinuity, isn't there? Abraham circumcised all this physical descendants, but in Galatians 3 Paul contrasts such physical descendants with the real seed of Abraham: those who believe and have been baptised.  

Raising the children of believers as the heirs of the covenant. I entirely agree, and I likewise charge parents of newborns from Ephesians 6:1-3. The question for me is the distinction again as to whether baptism is for hearers or receivers. I think the questions posed to those baptised - a universal practice in all traditions - speak for themselves.

The arguments in favour of paedo-baptism are well-known. In their presbyterian guise they are Biblical and do not obviate but demand personal repentance and faith. I don't find them conclusive; they rely on what is implicit within the New Testament, rather than direct command. And they are heavily deductive, hanging on a certain system of doctrine and church tradition. Which is actually where I see the clinching argument. I wonder whether the change of heart is not so much about a single issue (the subjects of baptism), but about identity and affiliation. There are some paedo-baptists in the Congregationalist tradition, for example in the FIEC, but pastor Goligher has not sought fellowship with them. Why not? Is there not a sociological dimension? Do the ethnic and historical heritage, prestige, level of education and demographic of Presbyterianism not present a certain appeal? I think they do. Quote: "... it gives me more joy than I can express to belong to a church that takes seriously the creeds, confessions, and catechisms of the Reformation."

I wish pastor Goligher every blessing in his new charge at Tenth Presbyterian Church. My only wish is that he not be too eager to disparage the churches, theology and church practice he himself espoused (or at least did not deny) not so long ago. I trust that it was the Lord who foreordained that pastor Goligher would serve as a Baptist pastor before becoming a presbyterian. Maybe the church practice of our 'tin chapels' is not all negative and might have something to contribute to the broader Christian church. One can but hope. 

5 комментариев:

  1. Анонимный11/8/13 21:24

    Очень полезный текст... :-)

  2. What do you mean by "Abraham >baptised< all this physical descendants" ? Is it just a typing error or more?

  3. Thanks, Gerhard, well spotted! I suppose I might have said that Abraham adminstered his descendants the sign of covenant (which would include both Old Testament circumcision and New Testament baptism), but yes, it was a typing error. I have corrected it.

  4. That's to what I alluded: the baptism as sign of covenant. Is there really a proof text for this? The only hint at a "sign of covenant" I would suppose in 1 Cor 11:25.

  5. Texts such as Colossians 2:12 and Galatians 3 see circumcision under the Old Covenant corresponding to something else under the New Covenant. That something is: (1) Christ, (2) the new birth in Christ and (3) through faith, in baptism. I have not found a solid Scriptural reference identifying baptism itself as a sign (or seal).